Blaauwkrantz’s bitter land reform failure

Workers at South Africa’s premier hunting destination remain pariahs on their own land after a failed land reform project.

The burnt-orange aloes are in bloom at Prentice Kraal, a farm just outside Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. Here, a land reform scheme designed to empower workers has left them in crippling debt.

This is mohair country. Izak Dolf, like his father before him, once classed mohair fleeces for prominent Eastern Cape farmer, Arthur Rudman. But Dolf is no longer able to work after losing most of his toes.

Each of Dolf’s 52-years are etched into his furrowed face. His home, which has four concrete-fibre walls, has no electricity or running water. His bedroom is lit by a single candle.  There is no clear indication that Dolf has benefitted from a government land reform scheme he entered into more than a decade ago.

The government’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development scheme, which was initiated at Prentice Kraal in 2005, was meant to alleviate the difficult circumstances of Dolf and 20 other long-time workers on Rudman’s farm, Blaauwkrantz.

Rudman’s family has farmed mohair at Blaauwkrantz, which neighbours Prentice Kraal, since the 1930s. Spanning 100 000 acres (about 40 468 hectares), Blaauwkrantz is also South Africa’s largest trophy hunting farm.

But since the inception of the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development scheme, the Prentice Kraal project, along with the relationship between the workers and Rudman, has collapsed into acrimony.

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25 May 2018. Isak Dolf, one of the workers involved in a land dispute at Blaauwkrantz Farm, in his home.

In 2004, Rudman paid R3.5 million for Prentice Kraal. Towards the end of 2005, the farm was transferred to Blaauwkrantz Share Equity (Pty) Ltd, in which the workers acquired a 49% stake. The joint venture was envisaged as a business for hunting and selling game.

About R950 000 of the workers’ contribution was funded by a grant from the then Department of  Agriculture and Land Affairs (now the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform), and the remaining R766 073 was fronted in the form of a loan from Rudman himself.

During an interview in Uitenhage, Rudman told New Frame that the financing costs and interest rates of a bank loan would have been too high, and that he would have had to stand surety for the workers. Concerned about the compound interest on any defaults, Rudman turned creditor. “Who would have to pay for it? I would have to pay for it,” he said.

Debt

Blaauwkrantz Share Equity’s financial records show that the workers now owe the Arthur Rudman Family Trust, which owns the remaining 51% of the business, more than R4 million – an amount more than 4.5 times greater than the principal.

Section 103 of the National Credit Act (2005) protects debtors from accruing interest that exceeds the initial amount of their loans. But in emails sent to New Frame, Rudman claims that this protection “has no bearing” on the workers’ outstanding loan.

He insists that, over time, he made “various further payments on behalf of the workers”, thereby increasing the initial loan amount.

The workers, who now maintain a herd of their own goats at Prentice Kraal, claim they neither understood the terms of the initial loan nor the increases to it, let alone agreed to them.

Claire Bezuidenhout, who was a senior planner at the Land Affairs Department at the time, was enlisted at the outset of the project to explain the terms of the loan and trust deed to the workers. According to Rudman, it was the department’s third attempt to explain the terms of the agreement to the workers. He also claims that Bezuidenhout told the workers that any income from the game hunted or sold from Prentice Kaal would be offset against their debt to Rudman.

Bezuidenhout, who has since resigned from the department, cannot remember if the workers ever agreed to these terms in writing. Rudman confirmed that no written loan agreement exists, but suggested that low education levels among farm workers make their commitment to written agreements difficult.

Research conducted by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies shows that, outside of the former Transkei and Ciskei homelands, the Eastern Cape is still largely owned by white people. With the exception of urban centres, almost all land in the province belongs to 6 500 white commercial farmers, accounting for 60% of the entire province.

The Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development scheme was among a handful of government land reform programmes designed to address this imbalance. But the experience of the Blaauwkrantz beneficiaries resonates with criticisms levelled against the programme in Parliament’s 2017 high-level panel report on post-1994 legislation.

The panel raised concerns, for instance, that since its inception, the project has promoted indebtedness, citing evidence that “consultants and planners encouraged [project] applicants to take out loans as one way of making the figures work on paper”.

Back on Blaauwkrantz, ties between the 21 workers and the Rudman family run deep. Six generations of Dolf’s family have worked for the Rudmans. Dolf’s great-great-grandfather was working at Blaauwkrantz when Rudman was born.

Dolf’s father died in the farm’s perilous kloofs, where his body had to be retrieved by a helicopter. Dolf’s 18-year-old son now works for Rudman.

Like Dolf, Zwelothando Moni was born and raised at Blaauwkrantz. Now owlish, and plainly vexed by the course that the Blaauwkrantz Share Equity joint venture has run, Moni recalls how Rudman’s father baptised him “Apie” as a child. Moni says the moniker, which is Afrikaans for “little monkey”, was a reference to the colour of his skin. “Omdat ek ‘n geel mannetjie was daar by die begin [Because I was a yellow boy in the beginning].”

A generation later, it was Moni who taught Rudman’s two sons, Eardly and Francois, how to fire a rifle. Both have since grown up to become professional hunters. Rudman and his sons still refer to Moni, now 53, as “Apie”.

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25 May 2018. Novula “Lizzy” Jackson.

Novula “Lizzy” Jackson, another of the 21 workers who were supposed to benefit from the scheme, was born on Rudman’s farm time at the same time as Moni. Jackson says that she raised Eardly and Francois along with their younger sister.

She began caring for Rudman’s children at 16, even before she left school. While her classmates began their after-school activities, Jackson would wait for Rudman’s wife, Trinette, at the school gate. She would then mind the children while Trinette went shopping.

Dolf, Moni, Jackson and other scheme beneficiaries who spoke to New Frame claim that, along with the loan agreement that has saddled them with such a crippling debt, other crucial aspects of the Blaauwkrantz Share Equity joint venture were never properly explained.

A clause in the agreement between beneficiaries and the Rudman family, for instance, outlines that beneficiaries only remain beneficiaries, and retain their shares, if they remain employed by Rudman.

Workers allege that Rudman has used this clause to dismiss them unfairly, cheating them of their dues from the scheme. Only 7 of the original 21 workers are still employed at Blaauwkrantz, but Rudman maintains that he has not dismissed any of the beneficiaries. According to him, they have either resigned or absconded.

Dolf, Moni and Jackson are no longer employed by Rudman.

Decisions regarding Blaauwkrantz Share Equity’s day-to-day affairs were also signed over to Rudman. Workers say that Rudman incurred expenses on behalf of the business without their knowledge. These eventually amounted to the “further payments” that Rudman admits have exacerbated the workers’ debt.

Financial records show that the expenditure by Blaauwkrantz Share Equity has outstripped the income generated through the sale of game in every year of the joint venture’s existence. As a result, beneficiaries have never received any dividends.

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28 May 2018. Farmer Arthur Rudman who is involved in a dispute over land with former workers on  Blaauwkrantz Farm.

One of Rudman’s decisions caused particular resentment among the workers. In October 2016, Rudman reduced the height of the fence between Blaauwkrantz and Prentice Kraal, allowing game to migrate between the trophy hunting farm and the farm he owned in partnership with the workers. “I have 51%. I can do that,” Rudman told New Frame.

Rudman maintains that lowering the fence was a reasonable measure to expose game on both sides to more diverse grazing during particularly dry seasons. Despite acknowledging that there is no way of knowing how many animals remain at Prentice Kraal, Rudman claims that more animals were hunted on the farm in the years after the fence was lowered.

But the workers are incensed at a move they argue was a clear attempt to siphon game and profits from Prentice Kraal into Blaauwkrantz.

On Rudman’s side of the fence, business is good. Clients spend up to R110 000 for a week’s stay at Blaauwkrantz, hunting a variety of animals ranging from buffaloes to monkeys and endangered species such as roan and sable antelope.

Protest

The relationship between the beneficiaries and Rudman slid into a final disrepair in the wake of a picket held at Blaauwkrantz’s gates on the morning of 17 June last year.

Despite having received notice of the picket from the SAPS in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act (1993), Rudman has called the picket “illegal”.

The workers also sent a letter to more than 150 of Blaauwkrantz’ international clients, alleging, among other things, that Rudman had stolen both land and dividends from them.

Rudman says the fallout with Blaauwkrantz’s international clients was drastic. Some informed him that they would not return to the farm until he “clears his story up”. Part of his smoothing things over with clients in the US included purchasing a double booth at the Dallas Safari Club convention (Rudman is a lifetime member of the club) for $10 000 (about R141 375).

Another included acquiescing to some clients’ demands that any workers involved in the picket be kept away from the Blaauwkrantz lodge and any hunting activities during their visit.

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25 May 2018. A “suurtjie” – the small cacti that Jackson now picks in in the bush.

Jackson was one victim of this demand. After raising the Rudman children, she served hunters at the Blaauwkrantz lodge for years. But in the wake of the pressure from international clients, she was turned away into the bush, where her work now entails picking small cacti covered in razor-sharp needles called suurtjies.

The future of Prentice Kraal and the Blaauwkrantz Share Equity joint venture now depends on settlement negotiations.

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