66ha of sugar cane burnt in second arson attack on disputed KZN farm

One of the sugar cane farms under dispute by claimants on the KZN South Coast.
One of the sugar cane farms under dispute by claimants on the KZN South Coast.
Image: Jackie Clausen

About 66ha of sugar cane was set alight in a suspected arson attack - the second in two weeks - in Mthwalume on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast this week.

The attack came despite an intervention by the Land Claims Court in a seven-year land claim dispute over a number of farms on the KZN south coast. 

On Wednesday, the Mathulini Communal Property Association (MCPA) was granted an interim interdict by the Land Claims Court in Randburg, Johannesburg, against Mandlenkosi Radebe and a group of residents who are disputing the land claim.

The order interdicts Radebe and the group from unlawfully interfering with, threatening or assaulting any of the applicants, or entering properties owned by the MCPA. The interdict was taken by consent, on the understanding that Radebe and the other respondents did not admit any wrongdoing.

The order followed MCPA's urgent application filed before the court on Wednesday last week to interdict Radebe, who claims to be the legitimate chair of the community trust, and a group that wants to take over a farm from interfering with the land claim.

The disputed 2,115ha Kembali Farm, valued at R80m, was successfully claimed by the Mathulini community in 2012 as part of the government’s land redistribution programme. The farm, which produces 400,000 tons of sugarcane annually and employs 1,200 people, is in phase one of a 7,141ha land claim, valued at more than R300m. It includes another 1,732ha sugar cane farm, a 57ha macadamia nut farm, an 8ha timber farm and 318ha of scrub.

But now a dispute has arisen among the claimants over who are the rightful beneficiaries of the claim, which is administered by the MCPA and the Ndelu community Trust on behalf of the community.

The dispute has become so violent that a farm manager suffered third degree burns after he was thrown into burning sugar cane by unknown people while he was investigating the cause of a fire in the early hours of the morning.

Local chief Bhekizizwe Luthuli has also written to President Cyril Ramaphosa and land reform and rural development minister Thoko Didiza, asking for their intervention.

Luthuli accused the concerned group of trying to violently “hijack a legitimate land claim in a desperate and unlawful attempt to achieve what has failed through legal processes that have so far cost the beneficiaries R6.5m in legal fees”. Radebe, in turn, accused Luthuli of running the MCPA as his personal fiefdom by appointing his own people to run the trust.

The KZN Land Claims Commission also tried to resolve the dispute by facilitating a process to update the beneficiary list, which culminated in the election of the new leadership of the Mathulini community.

But Luthuli took the commission to court to, among other things, challenge the process, and that litigation is still ongoing. Hours after a community meeting facilitated by the commission on Thursday last week, 24ha of sugar cane, valued at R1m, was set alight. About 66ha of sugar cane was burnt this week. The Land Claims Court has set the matter down for hearing on October 30.

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