Protector’s investigation into costly land deal welcomed

The Public Protector’s decision to investigate a R36,48 million land transaction in Mpumalanga has been welcomed by several organisations.

The Public Protector’s decision to investigate a R36,48 million land transaction in Mpumalanga has been welcomed by several organisations.

The Protector’s decision followed a request by the Mpumalanga branch of the Democratic Alliance (DA-MP) lodged in October with the Office of the Public Protector (OPP).

The crux of the DA-MP’s request was that the party was suspicious of the fact that the Mpumalanga Department of Public Works (MDPW) had paid R36,48 million for the 414ha piece of Rietspruit Farm 6km from the Ermelo central business district, when the same piece of land had been bought by a small Barberton-based furniture company, Bongiveli CC, for R11,97 million from Fremax Farms a short time before.

The MDPW apparently bought the land on behalf of the Msukaligwa municipality to be converted into a low-cost housing development. “I confirm that the Public Protector has decided to investigate the matter which has now commenced,” said OPP spokesperson, Kgalalelo Masibi.

The DA-MP has welcomed the Protector’s decision. “We hope that the investigation will prove that the specific land transaction in Ermelo cannot be to the advantage of the local community because this piece of land is 6km from the CBD,” said DA-MP spokesman, James Harris. “There is land presently owned by the Msukaligwa municipality in the centre of the CBD but it is undeveloped because there’s no money available. It doesn’t make financial sense to have bought the latest piece of land.”

The DA-MP added that it was also suspicious of the land deal because it would not create sustainable work or boost the local economy. In addition, Rooyenit was not a financially sustainable purchase. Annelize Crosby, a land affairs expert with farmers’ union Agri SA, told Farmer’s Weekly that the OPP’s investigation would have to determine if the property in question at Rietspruit Farm had already been rezoned, sub-division approvals obtained and development rights granted, among other aspects, before the land was bought from Bongiveli CC by the MDPW.

“It may have then been worth more than mere farming land,” she explained. Attempts by Farmer’s Weekly to get a response from the MDPW to the announcement of the OPP’s investigation were unsuccessful. Harris said, “We believe that this transaction was only done to enrich a third party.” – Lloyd Phillips