Public servant jailed for theft of claimants’ farm
Aformer state official entrusted with land claims and redistribution has been sent to prison for 10 years for stealing a farm and livestock that had been awarded to a labour tenant family.
A decade after the Shabalala family was awarded the Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, farm where they had lived and worked all their lives, they are still waiting for the government to transfer ownership to them and to provide assistance in line with the land reform policy.
"It must be placed on record that this is not even in the pipeline," said the Durban commercial crimes court magistrate Judy Naidoo on Monday, referring to the lack of progress in transferring the farm to the Shabalalas.
Patrick Masoka was found guilty earlier in 2018 of fraud and two counts of theft amounting to R5.3m. The court heard that while working for the department of rural development & land reform as a project manager, Masoka had devised a blatantly corrupt scheme. He and his family took ownership and control of Kuickvlei, a commercially viable farm near Ladysmith.
In terms of their land claim settlement, the Shabalala family should have become the rightful owners of the farm and should have received grants and assistance in line with the government’s objective to support emerging farmers.
Instead, Masoka took over the farm and removed cattle and sheep.
He also created a trust deed that omitted the Shabalalas as the new owners.
Masoka amended many documents that enabled him and his family to move into the main homestead at Kuickvlei farm and to benefit from agricultural development grants for livestock purchase, farm implements and livestock handling facilities. He defrauded the state and the Shabalalas of more than R5.3m.
Through plundering of its assets, Kuickvlei deteriorated until it was no longer the viable farm it was when it was sold by the previous owner, Gerhardus van Zyl, to the government in 2008 for land reform purposes.
Although it was seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit, the farm has since become even more dilapidated, said Naidoo.
The magistrate added that the case highlights the extent to which corrupt officials have been able to manipulate the land reform process to defraud rightful beneficiaries.
According to evidence presented in court, the Kuickvlei farm is one of 28 similar cases in KwaZulu-Natal. Naidoo said such properties could have been used to uplift the socioeconomic circumstances of previously disadvantaged people but had ended up in the hands of a corrupt and greedy state functionary.
As we read about the government’s new policy of expropriation of land without compensation, one sincerely hopes that the policies and procedures implemented will be more streamlined and effected in the interests of the community and not left to greedy individuals who only seek to uplift themselves at the expense of more needy peopleJudy Naidoo
"The Shabalalas were totally unsophisticated and had the wool pulled over their eyes when the accused appropriated the farm. The Shabalalas accepted this because they knew no better of their rights and because he was an official with land affairs," said Naidoo.
"The head of the family, Wilson Shabalala, is very old and had to travel all the way from Ladysmith to testify. He was very emotional and even cried when testifying," she said. "In his twilight age, he needs to have some security and reassurance that he and his family would be given what was rightfully theirs — land they have lived on since birth."
Naidoo said that in considering an appropriate sentence the court needed to take into account the exorbitant costs incurred by the state in rectifying the wrongs of government officials.
In this case, the forensic investigation had cost R1.3m, and more than R335,000 was spent in preserving the farm’s assets, ultimately to no avail.
"The Shabalalas are still left in limbo regarding their ownership of the property," said Naidoo. They deserve the assistance they had been promised, she added.
Naidoo said people are getting fed up with the slow pace of land reform and the associated corruption.
"As we read about the government’s new policy of expropriation of land without compensation, one sincerely hopes that the policies and procedures implemented will be more streamlined and effected in the interests of the community and not left to greedy individuals who only seek to uplift themselves at the expense of more needy people."
Masoka’s defence attorney, Madoda Nxumalo, had pleaded for the court’s leniency because of his client’s disability.
He uses crutches to walk.
But the magistrate said Masoka was a fully functional member of society who did not deserve preferential treatment, but rather punishment for his crime. Naidoo rejected the defence’s argument that a non-custodial sentence and associated correctional supervision would be a suitable sentence for Masoka.
"It would be tantamount to a mere slap on the wrist and [this would] send a wrong message to other people," she added.
After sentencing, Nxumalo indicated that he would apply for leave to appeal Masoka’s conviction and sentence.
Pending his application, Naidoo ordered that Masoka begin serving his jail sentence.