The Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) has delivered yet another scathing ruling on the government’s failure to properly implement land reform, finding that its 17-year-old failure to sell a farm to an elderly black Limpopo farmer is irrational and unconstitutional.

In what Business Day says is a precedent-setting decision that will force the government to radically re-evaluate its policy of offering black farmers long-term leases rather than land ownership, the court yesterday ordered the Department of Land Reform & Rural Development to make good on its promise to sell 78-year-old David Rakgase the Nooitgedacht farm he has been leasing from the state since the 1990s.

Judge Norman Davis said it is ‘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. He echoed the Constitutional Court’s recent harsh criticism of the state’s three-decade-long failure to process 11 000 land claims made by so-called labour-tenant farmers.

In that ruling, in which the court ordered that a ‘special master’ be appointed to process these claims, Judge Edwin Cameron slammed government administrators for failing to make land reform a reality – and laid the blame for the way in which the land debate had been ‘embittered’ at their door.

The Rakgase ruling has reinforced that criticism, and raises serious questions about how the government will administer the legally complex process of expropriation without compensation, given its now well-documented failures to administer land reform programmes intended to empower black farmers, says the report.

Davis slammed the way in which the government had ‘arbitrarily’ refused to sell Rakgase the land he had spent decades renting from the state, despite previously identifying him as an ideal beneficiary of the land redistribution for agricultural development programme.

There is no explanation why, when the well-motivated occasion for conversation of a right presented itself, it was shied away from and the elderly applicant (Rakgase) was presented with a much lesser right, being a long-term lease, the end of which he will not see in his lifetime,’ said Davis.

According to the Business Day report, the judge said the government’s argument that Rakgase had ‘security of tenure’ and faced no imminent prospect of eviction with the long-term lease that had been offered to him ‘smacks of callousness and cynicism, particularly given our country’s historical deficiencies in dealing with land reform’.

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