‘Allow us to stay incompetent’

Managers at the Department of Rural Development & Land Reform have refused to sign peformance agreements. Surely it’s time for a major shake-up?

I was shocked by reports from a recent meeting between the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and its Portfolio Committee. According to the reports, the department’s director-general, Mdu Shabane, told the committee that his senior managers had refused to sign performance agreements.

This means quite simply that the managers did not want to commit themselves to delivering on their mandates. I have never come across a situation where employees have refused to promise to fulfil some of their responsibilities, and still managed to keep their jobs. I suppose this only happens in government. I very much doubt whether the editor of this magazine, for example, would still have a job if she could not assure top management that the magazine would be on the shelves every week.

Over the past few days I’ve spent much of my time on the telephone and sending emails to the department trying to get answers on why, after 10 years, claimants involved in the Wallmansthal land claim (settled in 2002) have still not received their title deeds. This community has now been forced to go to court to get illegal occupants off their land. The invaders ‘settled’ there because the rightful claimants could not move in, as they didn’t yet have titles to their land.

Well, after about three days of emails and phone calls, I was sent approximately one page of text as an answer. The entire contents of this page can be summarised in three words: “We don’t know!” A great deal of space was taken up recounting the history of the incident, which I already knew. The real problem – the handing over of the claimants’ title deeds – was not mentioned, however.

The community is still waiting. In another email, I asked why the department had introduced a conman to a vulnerable group of women farming on a comprehensive rural development project (CRDP) site in Muyexe, Giyani, in Limpopo. The man had helped the women to secure a R1,3 million loan. At the time, however, the women were not aware they were signing a loan agreement. The man began paying himself R95 000 per month and then helped himself to a further R250 000 before disappearing.

Once again, the department did not know how this had been allowed to happen. It did, however, admit to introducing this man to the project. It took us at Farmer’s Weekly two minutes to find out that his company had not even been registered with the companies and intellectual property registration office.

Clearly, the senior managers in the department are failing to do their jobs. They know this all too well, of course, which explains why they’ve refused to sign performance agreements. More worrying, however, is the fact that these are the very people who should be playing a crucial role in the land reform process.

They’re the managers who are meant to be implementing policies and strategies passed down to them by their seniors. If they fail, the entire process fails. Maybe, just maybe, the land reform process, including the willing-buyer, willing-seller system, is failing because we’re pointing fingers at the wrong people.