Speaker Thoko Didiza faces imprisonment if she fails to comply with land redistribution order

Speaker Thoko Didiza faces imprisonment if she fails to comply with land redistribution order

Speaker Thoko Didiza faces imprisonment if she fails to comply with land redistribution order

 Thoko Didiza, SA’s former Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development during a visit to Cedara College of Agriculture on 18 May 2023 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)


By Estelle Ellis


27 Jun 2024  8

Speaker of the National Assembly Thoko Didiza and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development face arrest if they fail to act on a court order restoring the possession of a Beaufort West sheep farm to the original beneficiaries of a land redistribution project within the next 30 days.

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In a scathing ruling on Thursday, Cape High Court acting Judge Safia Mahomed declared the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thoko Didiza,  and officials from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development in contempt of court, saying they had violated an order on purpose and in bad faith.

Didiza and the officials face imprisonment if they do not take steps to restore a Beaufort West farm to the original recipients of a land restitution application. Didiza was cited because the offence of contempt of court occurred while she was the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development.


Farmers (from left) Herold Bezuidenhout, Jan Bergh and Johannes Joshua Bezuidenhout in the Western Cape High Court during the contempt hearing. (Photo: Supplied)

Three Beaufort West sheep farmers, known as the Nuveld farmers, have been embroiled in a legal battle with the government since officials began moving other families on to their farm, putting their livelihoods, wool certification and the security of their livestock at risk. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Three Beaufort West farmers call for agriculture minister and officials to be jailed for contempt of court 

In 2009, the then Department of Rural Development and Land Reform allocated five farms in the Beaufort West district, collectively known as Plateau Farm, to more than 80 beneficiaries as part of its land reform programme. 

thoko didiza jail land restitution order

From left: Farmers Herold Bezuidenhout, Jan Bergh and Johannes Joshua Bezuidenhout in Beaufort West. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The three Nuveld farmers, Joshua Bezuidenhout, his brother Herold Bezuidenhout and Jan Bergh — all of whom were the children of farmworkers — were among the beneficiaries. They built up an award-winning wool co-op, Nuveld Farming Empowerment Enterprises. Other beneficiaries were also given the opportunity to farm, but soon abandoned the effort. 

In January and February, the government grabbed two of the farms. Officials cut the locks and replaced them with others. They gave access to the land to beneficiaries, some of whom have since walked away.

The three farmers, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, went to court and obtained an order on 4 March ordering the minister and the officials, as well as two beneficiaries who had been placed on the farms by the department, to restore possession of the land to them. Even after this court order, the department’s officials allowed more people to move on to the farms.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Award-winning Karoo wool farmers win battle to have farms returned after government locked them out

Preferred candidates

Their sheep farming operations were highly successful and in 2020 and again in 2023 their wool obtained the highest average price for the region at the national wool auction in Gqeberha. 

When the leases expired in 2019, the Nuveld farmers were appointed caretakers of the farms pending the finalisation of a 30-year lease.

They were recommended by the National Land Acquisition and Allocation Control Committee as the preferred candidates for the lease.

Despite this recommendation, the acting chief director of Western Cape Provincial Shared Services decided in September 2020 not to award the lease to the Nuveld farmers. The department refused to disclose the reason to the three farmers.

On 4 April 2023, the farmers applied to the Western Cape Division of the High Court to review and set aside the decision.

While the case was pending, in January and February, the department allocated two parts of Plateau Farm to former beneficiaries who had left the farm. This was without any official application being filed.

On 4 March, the Nuveld farmers approached the high court to overturn this decision and restore their possession of Plateau Farm. They were successful and obtained a court order.

Despite this order, the department moved even more people on to the farm.

The farmers then returned to court and asked for Didiza and three government officials to be found guilty of contempt of court.

Thirty days to comply

Judge Mahomed ruled that they had a case. She gave Didiza, government officials Thokozile Xaso, Terries Ndove and Lubabalo Mbekeni as well as the new farmers who moved on to the farm, Hendrik Booysen and Lucy Nduki, 30 days to move and restore the farm to the Nuveld farmers or go to prison for 30 days.

Mahomed dismissed Didiza and the government respondents’ defence that the court order did not “direct them to launch eviction proceedings”.

Mahomed highlighted evidence before the court that the department delivered wheelbarrows and vegetables to one of the farms, which the court had declared must be returned to the Nuveld farmers, to help a widow placed there by officials. 

“At no stage did the departmental respondents consider it necessary to explain to the court how or why this conduct would not be perceived as the department’s ‘continued consent’ for [the widow] to continue to occupy [the farm] in direct contravention of the March court order and the alleged revocation of their consent,” she said.

She said the department was in wilful contravention of the court order and had acted in bad faith.

She further ruled that a third family given access to one of the farms after the first court order must also return possession of the land to the Nuveld farmers.

The State Attorney, representing Didiza and the government officials, has not yet responded to a request for comment.

In papers before the court, the legal team for the government officials and Didiza argued that their clients did not have the intent to act in contempt of court and had not acted in bad faith. DM