Farmers now want out of land deal

KZN villagers are disputing over land with a subsidiary company of sugar producer Tongaat Huletts
KZN villagers are disputing over land with a subsidiary company of sugar producer Tongaat Huletts
Image: 123RF/ photka

Angry small-scale farmers under the Macambini Tribal Authority on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast want out of the land agreement allegedly signed on their behalf by their late traditional leader.

At the heart of the furore is an alleged agreement signed by Simamisa - a subsidiary company of giant sugar producer Tongaat Huletts - with the late chief of the eMacambini clan, Inkosi Khayelihle Mathaba, who died in a car crash in 2014.

The agreement dates back to 2012 where about 6,591ha of land belonging to the Macambini community was allegedly given to Simamisa to cultivate sugar cane.

Villagers say they want the company off their land because the agreement signed by their chief had lapsed.

They claim that they were duped by Mathaba, who had promised them that the agricultural programme would bring much-needed jobs to the impoverished community.

"This company [Simamisa] is doing as it pleases on the land of our forefathers. The chief told us to donate our land and in return the company would give us 10% profits of the produce," said Mntomuhle Biyela, a local farmer.

Biyela said since the death of Mathaba, the company had tilled more land than residents were told would be cultivated.

"What pains me the most is to see the graves of our forefathers being ruined to make way for sugar cane. Our woes are exacerbated by the fact that the new chief is young and not passionate about land," Biyela said. "... His father is the one who sold us out"

Macambini came to prominence in 2008 when community members protested against a massive R44bn development project that was to be spearheaded by Dubai-based consortium Ruwaad Group.

The development project was the brainchild of then KwaZulu-Natal premier Sbusiso Ndebele.

About 16,900ha was to be used to build state-of-the-art hotels, educational and recreational facilities and shopping malls, among others.

Macambini Traditional Authority spokesperson Mzonjani Mathaba agreed there was an agreement between the late chief, Simamisa and the villagers to lease the land for production of sugar cane.

"The company was invited by the chief to make presentations to the community and those who wanted to give their land volunteered to do so. Other people refused, so their land was not used. That's what I know," Mathaba said.

Tongaat Huletts socioeconomic development manager Nkonzo Mhlongo said the agricultural project had created jobs for the villagers.

"We were invited to Macambini by the chief and the community agreed that their land would be leased out. The lease lasts up to 10 years and has not expired. The project provides the villagers with jobs as sugar cane cutters and tractor drivers," Mhlongo said.

She said they had made substantial development in the area, donating more than R2m towards renovating local schools. "We also fund local [sports] teams and youth initiatives," Mhlongo said.

Some villagers threatened to set sugar cane fields alight and destroy company equipment to show their dissatisfaction with Simamisa.

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