Twenty-five farms have been returned to the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development following investigations into alleged corruption during their repatriation.

Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, NPA head Shaun Abrahams and Special Investigations Unit (SIU) head Jan Lekhoa Mothibi held a joint press conference in Parliament on Thursday on the matter.

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Abrahams said the NPA received allegations, starting in March 2009, that the transfer of these farms to the public involved collusion by department officials, farm owners, attorneys and real estate agents.

The farms had been earmarked for redistribution to rural communities as mandated by the Land Reform Act.

All in all, 29 preservation orders were obtained for farms valued at a combined R463m, following investigations by the SIU and the Asset Forfeiture Unit, Abrahams said.

Of those, twenty-five farms have been formally confiscated and returned, the most expensive being Boschhoek Farm in KwaZulu-Natal, worth R49m.

The seizure of the other four, worth approximately R73m, is still being completed.

The allegations included:

– that farms were sold and transferred to individuals and entities who were not eligible;

– that beneficiaries were excluded in favour of family members of department officials;

– and that department officials colluded with farm owners to remain de facto owners of the land;

– Complaints also said that several farms had been stripped of assets.

The farms were situated in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

Six more farms are awaiting the finalization of their preservation orders.

A further 34 farms are still waiting to be investigated, which could total an additional R400m.

Criminal cases

Nkwinti said the department will now redistribute the land before the end of the year to eligible beneficiaries who have registered.

“We know exactly who deserves to get this land and these farms back,” he said. “We will go there ourselves and give those households a land rights certificate.”

The department wants to avoid the situation of people “just walking in there” without title deeds, he added.

The SIU was granted a special proclamation by President Jacob Zuma to investigate the claims in February 2011.

The scope of their investigations would cover transactions starting from January 1 2006, SIU head Mothibi said.

Twelve criminal cases are currently being heard by the courts, out of a total 58 referrals by the SIU.

The other cases are all civil cases, and won’t involve prosecutions.

The department saved R15m over the last year as a result.