Farmer David Rakgase on his farm in Limpopo. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Farmer David Rakgase on his farm in Limpopo. Picture: SOWETAN/ANTONIO MUCHAVE

The government has abandoned its bid to appeal a ruling that forces it to sell an elderly black Limpopo farmer the land it promised him more than two decades ago, but it now wants a price that is allegedly nine times what the high court in Pretoria  ordered it sell for. 

As a result, farmer David Rakgase’s lawyers have threatened to pursue contempt of court charges against the department of land reform & rural development should it not transfer the land he has been leasing from the state for three decades to him, at the price he was offered in 2002 — R621,000.  

The department allegedly insists that Rakgase must pay R5.5m for the property, which its representatives offered to sell him under the now discontinued land redistribution for agricultural development (LRAD) programme in 2002. The programme was aimed at helping black farmers own land through government-sponsored grants, but was ravaged by rampant fraud and corruption, much of which allegedly involved department officials.

In 2019 the Constitutional Court slammed the government in a separate case for its inability to properly implement its own land reform programme. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week there is a push to finalise legislation to allow expropriation of land without compensation.

One of the criticisms around the proposed constitutional amendment, which is meant to tackle skewed land ownership dating back to the colonial and apartheid eras, is that it could rattle investors and hurt SA’s already struggling economy.

Rakgase, whose cattle farm became a training ground for emerging black farmers, was identified as an ideal candidate to benefit from the LRAD scheme. But, despite being offered the farm and agreeing to buy it, the property was never transferred to him. Instead, the state offered him a 30-year lease, a step he says led to the ongoing illegal occupation of the land.

In September 2019, judge Norman Davis ruled in favour of 79-year-old Rakgase and found it was “clear that a breach of the state’s constitutional duties had occurred” in its handling of Rakgase’s attempts to buy the farm it had offered him. 

Davis accepted that in 2002 the state had offered to sell Rakgase the farm he has been leasing since 1991, under the LRAD programme, and had then failed to transfer the property to him after he agreed to buy it.

He ordered the minister of land reform & rural development “to take all necessary steps, within 30 calendar days of this order to sell the farm” to Rakgase. Davis said this was on the terms, conditions and price that would have applied if the farm was sold to Rakgase under LRAD in January 2003. 

That precedent-setting court victory may have profound consequences for black farmers like Rakgase, who have spent decades being refused the right to buy state land they have lived and worked on, and instead been offered long-term leases by the state. The government initially sought to appeal it, but later abandoned that appeal attempt.

Now, despite Rakgase’s lawyers producing evidence to show he was offered the land at R621,000 after a Land Bank valuation and in apparent violation of the high court’s ruling, the government wants R5.5m for the land. In a letter sent to Rakgase’s lawyers, it says it arrived at this price by looking at “market-related prices obtaining at that time in 2003 in the area where the property is situated”.

The letter does not address why the department is apparently not selling the land at the price that would have applied under the LRAD programme.

The department has agreed to meet Rakgase’s lawyers at the end of January.

But should the government not sell him the land for R621,000, his lawyers say they will pursue contempt of court proceedings against the state. 

In 2019 the Constitutional Court slammed the government in a separate case for its inability to properly implement its own land reform programme. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa said last week there is a push to finalise legislation to allow expropriation of land without compensation.

One of the criticisms around the proposed constitutional amendment, which is meant to tackle skewed land ownership dating back to the colonial and apartheid eras, is that it could rattle investors and hurt SA’s already struggling economy.

Rakgase, whose cattle farm became a training ground for emerging black farmers, was identified as an ideal candidate to benefit from the LRAD scheme. But, despite being offered the farm and agreeing to buy it, the property was never transferred to him. Instead, the state offered him a 30-year lease, a step he says led to the ongoing illegal occupation of the land.

In September 2019, judge Norman Davis ruled in favour of 79-year-old Rakgase and found it was “clear that a breach of the state’s constitutional duties had occurred” in its handling of Rakgase’s attempts to buy the farm it had offered him. 

Davis accepted that in 2002 the state had offered to sell Rakgase the farm he has been leasing since 1991, under the LRAD programme, and had then failed to transfer the property to him after he agreed to buy it.

He ordered the minister of land reform & rural development “to take all necessary steps, within 30 calendar days of this order to sell the farm” to Rakgase. Davis said this was on the terms, conditions and price that would have applied if the farm was sold to Rakgase under LRAD in January 2003.

That precedent-setting court victory may have profound consequences for black farmers like Rakgase, who have spent decades being refused the right to buy state land they have lived and worked on, and instead been offered long-term leases by the state. The government initially sought to appeal it, but later abandoned that appeal attempt.

Now, despite Rakgase’s lawyers producing evidence to show he was offered the land at R621,000 after a Land Bank valuation and in apparent violation of the high court’s ruling, the government wants R5.5m for the land. In a letter sent to Rakgase’s lawyers, it says it arrived at this price by looking at “market-related prices obtaining at that time in 2003 in the area where the property is situated”.

The letter does not address why the department is apparently not selling the land at the price that would have applied under the LRAD programme.

The department has agreed to meet Rakgase’s lawyers at the end of January.

But should the government not sell him the land for R621,000, his lawyers say they will pursue contempt of court proceedings against the state.