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May 26, 2010

Redistributed farms in South African community being 'run into ground'

The farms handed over to the Richtersveld community following its historic land claim victory are being run into the ground and animals are dying "in huge numbers," according to papers filed in the Northern Cape High Court this week.

The papers are part of an application by consultants the Pan African Agricultural Business Development Institute (PAABDI), to have the farms put under judicial management.

In an affidavit, PAABDI staffer and former manager of the farms Jolande Pretorius said she believed the farms were being run down "so that valuable assets may be snapped up for a song by interested parties, and possibly so that diamonds may be mined from the soil on the farms. The situation of these farms has worsened drastically since I left in November 2009, and is extremely critical," she said. "The animals are dying in huge numbers, and urgent attention is needed to prevent that all the animals die out and the farms become total wastelands."

The farms, along with an 84,000 hectare coastal strip of diamond-bearing land, were handed over to the community as part of a settlement reached with the state in 2007. They are on the southern bank of the Gariep River, formerly belonged to state-owned diamond mining company Alexkor. There is also an oyster farm inside the restricted mining area to the south of mining town Alexander Bay. The farms include a dairy and a dairy products processing facility, an abattoir, irrigated lands, orchards, a "fully equipped ostrich facility," staff villages, a school, community halls and a holiday resort .

Pretorius said in her affidavit that judicial management was necessary "to protect the assets that have been awarded to the Richtersveld Community." She said community leader Willem Diergaardt and other Richtersveld residents had been irregularly appointed as directors of the community's Richtersveld Agricultural Holding Company, which runs the farms.

When she arrived to take up an appointment as manager of the farms in September last year, the farms and the animals in particular were in "a terribly neglected state. The animals were starving, and many of them were on the brink of death," she said. "I was informed then that many of the animals had already died before I came."

Bacteria counts in the dairy's milk had soared due to poor hygiene, and 55 ostriches had died.

The people running the farms, including a nephew of Diergaardt's, had very little knowledge "and in some case[s] no knowledge" of agriculture.

In October 2009, the chairman of a committee overseeing the farms, Henry Wiggins, had declared that the farms were technically bankrupt. This was despite a sum of R50-million supposed to have been available for the project. Pretorius said the company owed PAABDI R45,000 for three months consulting fees. She said there was a "reasonable probability" that the company would recover if it was placed under judicial management.

The application came before Northern Cape High Court Judge Hennie Lacock in Kimberley on May 21, who postponed it to May 28. On that day, the judge agreed, PAABDI would seek an interim order interdicting the company from disposing of any assets. Also on the 28th, a date would be arranged for the matter to be placed on the urgent opposed roll.

iAfrica

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