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John Ngobeni and Lulamile Jack.

Prime asset reported to be in ruins

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A R6 million investment by the national government in a once seemingly prosperous game farm leased to two leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) in Limpopo four years ago is reportedly going to ruins as its being dogged by the prevailing drought, dying animals and a R60 000 rates bill in arrears in the apparent absence of recapitalisation funds and mentorship.
The current state of affairs on 300 ha of once prime land in what was described as the epicentre of game farming in the country, has evidently left MKMVA Limpopo Chairperson John Ngobeni and MKMVA Provincial Secretary Lulamile Jack despondent over a situation that has led to a crisis seeing them attempting to sustain operations and scores of animals reportedly kept on land in the Mookgophong area that is being leased from the government for a 30-year period.
The farm is situated 13 km west of Mookgophong along the R519 route and until recently was home to seven different animal species that included wildebeest, zebra and impala totalling 244 head of game when the animals started dying out due to prevailing drought conditions, Jack explained in an interview in Polokwane.
Images forwarded reflect facilities that apparently constitute an administration block with conference hall, bar and kitchen, a farmstead, five leisure camps and one caravan camp to which electricity has been cut due to apparent non-payment of an ever accumulating rates bill. In addition only two of the seven boreholes on the farm were operational, but are still not functional due to the electricity having been cut. Seemingly the three on-site swimming pools also require upgrade. In addition the farm boasts a landing strip.
The two founding members and directors of Jenzocom (Pty) Ltd, registered in 2014, officially entered into the agreement with the government with the intention of turning the operation into the jewel of Limpopo. Although it was indicated that the agreement was with the national government, the address for the lessor stipulated in the agricultural agreement of lease the lessor was 70 Hans van Rensburg Street in Polokwane where the provincial Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is located. A copy of the agreement references 5 June last year as the date the lessee signed the document in Polokwane while the lessor put a signature to it in Pretoria on 20 July last year, although it was learnt that occupation of the property reportedly already occurred in 2015.
In terms of the lease agreement part of the obligations of the lessee determined they had to retain control of the farm and activities conducted on the property while utilising the farm in line with standard farming practices without substantially deviating from it without prior written consent of the lessor to exercise discretion by taking into account prevailing agricultural and business conditions.
In their projections they assumed the facility becoming operational in February 2017, a year-round bed occupancy rate of 50%, accommodating day visitors to be charged entrance fees, making available hunting opportunities, training of farm employees in operational functions, a wildebeest breeding programme pre-empted to start in March 2017 and profit from game auctions.
While Jack said they had knocked on every door for assistance on the matter, and even a brief mention to President Cyril Ramaphosa in the run-up to his election as party president when the two met informally at an African National Congress (ANC) event in 2017, Ngobeni raised the issue of having been sent from pillar to post since having been informed of promised recapitalisation funds being stopped by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform already at the onset of their taking over.
Ngobeni concluded by saying government had to step in as an emergency measure and that their last hope was turning to the President for assistance if nobody was willing to help.
Rural Development Dept comment
Comment by Department of Rural Development and Land Reform Communication Services Manager Nicholas Magada is quoted verbatim: “Military veterans, women, youth, agricultural graduates, National Rural Youth Service Corps (programme) participants, people with disabilities and small scale farmers are among(st) the main targeted groups benefiting from the Land Redistribution programme. Land redistribution is one of the four land reform programme(s), the other three being restitution, tenure and development.
The farm in question was acquired under the land reform programme through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). The two beneficiaries have signed a 30-year lease with the department.
Government launched the Recapitalisation and Development Programme in 2010 to assist land reform farms that have received little or no support since they were awarded in 1994. The two beneficiaries have been provided with financial assistance to the tune of R1 595 000 in 2017.
In 2017/2018 financial year, the department commissioned farm assessment to all PLAS farms across the country. It was a professional and scientific farm assessment done to all PLAS farms to determine the type of developmental support required with a view to make land reform farms viable and sustainable commercial units.
Unfortunately those tasked with conducting farm assessments encountered some difficulties in getting access to the farm in question. Without (a) farm assessment report, there is no basis on which the farm development can be made.
The department is prepared to facilitate the process should there be any indication from the beneficiaries that they are now willing to allow the farm assessment conducted without any hindrances.”
When asked to clarify the financial assistance of R1,595 million said to have been paid to Ngobeni and Jack in 2017, Magada explained it was for drought relief without a required assessment. Full recapitalisation support was supposed to have occurred upon a full assessment for purposes of developmental assistance which couldn’t be done due to the challenge of access to the farm, he elaborated.
In response Jack refuted the claim about restricted access to the farm, adding that they had been receiving regular visits from departmental officials since the onset for inspections and stocktaking purposes. He stressed that the farming operations were being well maintained throughout.
In conclusion he alleged an intention to demoralise them and prove them incapable of being successful in the business operation while the recapitalisation funding from government was not forthcoming.

Story/photos: YOLANDE NEL
>>observer.yolande@gmail.com

Photos of amenities at Buffelskloof Game Farm taken some two months ago.