A communal property association has called on government to urgently intervene to stop violent land grabs of a black-owned farm saying failure to do so will hurt the agriculture sector and put thousands of jobs at risk.

This comes as fears continue to grow that the push for expropriation without compensation could lead to the erosion of property rights and Zimbabwe-style land grabs.

Speaking on behalf of the Mathulini Communal Property Association on Sunday, IFP MP Inkosi Bhekizizwe Luthuli revealed that a manager of a farm owned by the association in the Mtwalume area of KwaZulu-Natal had been hospitalised with first degree burns after thugs invaded the farm, set it alight and threw him into a fire with the intention of killing him.

“The perpetrators of this violent and unlawful act are part of the ‘concerned group’ that is attempting to hijack a 7,500 hectare land claim from the Mathulini Communal Property Association and the Ndelo Community Trust, valued in excess of R300m. The farms that make up this land claim produce 400,000 tonnes of sugar cane annually and employ 1 200 people,” said Luthuli.

Luthuli said this “violent hijack of a legitimate land claim is a desperate and unlawful attempt to achieve what has failed through legal processes that have so far cost the beneficiaries R6.5m in legal fees”. 

“We have previously written to President Cyril Ramaphosa calling for an intervention in this matter, but to no avail. Perhaps now that a farm has been invaded, roads illegally blockaded and a man nearly burned to death, the government will take notice,” Luthuli said.

“We have written to the new minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, to request that she urgently intervene. As a fresh ministerial appointee with previous experience of such matters, we call on her to stop the violent and illegitimate hijack of this land claim.

“If we allow nefarious forces to capture our land claim processes for their own ends, we will never get SA's stalled land reform programme properly on track.”

The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Late in 2018, the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) adopted a contentious report that called for a constitutional amendment to make it explicit that land expropriation without compensation could be used to address skewed land ownership patterns dating back to the colonial and apartheid eras.

The debate on the issue has polarised the country and spooked investors, with the proposed amendment set to be challenged in court by various stakeholders and political parties. The matter will also feature strongly in parliament in the coming months.