'Farms given only to elite' – theatre producer Mbongeni Ngema given a farm in KZN

The Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs has been dishing out KZN state farms to the elite, including theatre producer Mbongeni Ngema.

An investigation by The Witness has revealed that rural communities around Ulundi in Northern KZN where the department has been acquiring several farms in recent years, were left high and dry after the properties were given to the elite.

Ngema, who is not new to controversy, has been allocated the Toeggerkry Farm outside Ulundi. This is despite the fact that communities living around the area, including farm labourers, had been waiting for several for years for the department to allocate them sections of land within the property.

It has also been established that the department is currently in the process of transferring the Konningskroon Farm in the same area to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.

Despite pleas by the previous owner of Konningskroon, Paul Smith, that the department should ensure that former employees of the farm were given a stake, the department completely ignored the request, exposing the labourers to summary evictions.

Other properties which the department allocated to individuals, including a businessman from Johannesburg, are Melkom and Vitklip farms.

Dozens of families whose ancestors lived on the farms in the 19th century shortly before the properties were confiscated by earlier colonialists, were among people that the department has failed to cater for in its land redistribution programme.

The organisation fighting for the rights of rural communities and farm dwellers, the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), claims the department allocated the farms under a veil of secrecy. LPM secretary Msizeni Magwaza said: “Initially, department officials were engaging local communities about the farms, and at one stage people were given assurances that their needs will be taken care of with the farms that had been acquired by government. However, things changed when the department’s officials started to invite just a few individuals to meetings, shutting the door on people who should be the real beneficiaries of the government land programme.”

The department acquired two of the farms, Konningskroon and Dorfontein, from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, in a questionable deal recently reported by The Witness.

Ezemvelo, which had bought the two farms in 2015 for R25 million, only to transfer them to the department two years later, said it had disposed of the properties after the conservation entity discovered there were graves in some portions of the farms.

However, Magwaza said Ezemvelo’s explanation was not convincing.

“If they had sold them because of the graves then they should have sold them to Amafa, which is the custodian of heritage sites in the province. If the issue of the graves was a genuine concern why then did the department allocate the farms to individuals,” he said.

Ngema confirmed that the Toeg­gerkry Farm was allocated to him.

“They gave me the property but not the whole farm — I got only half of the farm,” he said.

While The Witness is in possession of a letter by the department’s chief director of land tenants confirming that Zwelithini was interested in the Konningskroon Farm, the Royal Household Trust said the department had not briefed it about the property.

“The farm is not in our records,” Royal Household Trust chairperson, Sihau Mbatha, said.

Ngema, who is breeding cattle at the farm, has previously been embroiled in controversy. In 1995 there was a public outcry after the Department of health under the now minister in the Presidency Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, awarded a R14,7 million contract to Ngema to produce a sequel to the musical, Sara­fina, as part of the department’s HIV awareness campaign.

Despite being sent questions two weeks ago, the department is yet to respond. Spokesperson Moses Rannditsheni said he was awaiting responses from the relevant units.