By Tom Head for The South African
The Matjhabeng Municipality in Free State has agreed to hand over 139 farms belonging to the administrative region, to act as a security on their R3.4-billion Eskom bill.
The serial defaulter has run up a tab of more than R3.4-billion in unpaid electricity bills over the years. Eskom put their foot down earlier in 2020, severely limiting the supply of energy for the municipality. However, it seems both parties have come to an agreement, and the total cost of the land is believed to be worth R2.5 billion.
This doesn’t clear all of the debt, but it marks a significant – if unusual – agreement between both parties. The deal was facilitated by the Free State High Court, and the title deeds will be signed over to Eskom while Matjhabeng remains in arrears. It is not yet clear what the power utility intends to do with these farms, should the debt stay in place.
The firm issued a statement on the matter earlier on Tuesday, confirming the details of their “land shedding” exchange. They state that all defaulting municipalities still owe them R31-billion, which remains a “threat to sustainability” for Eskom.
“In its ongoing efforts to recover more than R3.4 billion in unpaid debts owed by the Matjhabeng Municipality, the administrative body has agreed to hand over to Eskom 139 farms belong to the municipality, as a security on the debt. The farms are worth approximately R2.5 billion, and the title deeds will be endorsed in favour of Eskom.
“This will remain in place while the debt is unsettled. The order has been made by the High Court in Free State. This step on the part of Eskom is the result of repeated failures by Matjhabeng Municipality to adhere to its payment requirements. The total outstanding municipal debt [for all municipalities] of R31-billion threatens our sustainability.”
By Iavan Pijoos for News24
On Friday last week, lobby group AfriForum posted on its website that it had “obtained a list of farms identified” for expropriation. This can seen here.
It claimed it was being circulated within the rural development department.
AfriForum encouraged farmers to check if their farms were on the list and to contact the organisation so that they could “prepare for a joint legal strategy”.
Analysts at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) believe that a list said to contain the names of farms that are to be targeted for land expropriation without compensation is “legitimate”.
“While we note the statement by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform that ‘there is no truth to this document, the IRR, whose analysts have had sight of the list, has every reason to believe it is legitimate,” campaign manager Terence Corrigan said on Tuesday.
Corrigan said government had decided to start farm seizures before public comment and parliamentary processes were concluded.
“This is at odds – as the IRR has long warned – with assurances made by ruling party and government leaders that only unproductive land will be seized.
“The IRR has long cautioned that undermining property rights will have catastrophic economic and social ramifications,” Corrigan said.
List disputed by government
The department has disputed that a such a list exists.
Earlier this month, City Press reported that the ANC had identified 139 farms to be expropriated without compensation in the coming weeks, to test section 25 of the Constitution.
The list, shared by AfriForum, contained the names of 195 farms.
AfriForum deputy CEO Ernst Roets said the list came from a “confidential source”.
Farmers ‘worried’ about exposure
Agri SA president Dan Kriek said AfriForum’s publishing of this list was “grossly irresponsible” as it had itself acknowledged that its legitimacy was in doubt.
“They themselves don’t know if it’s valid or not,” Kriek said.
Speaking at a media briefing on Monday, Kriek said that two farmers whose farms were on the list had contacted him.
“By the way, some of those farmers were extremely agitated that they have now been exposed,” Kriek said.
He said the farmers were “extremely worried about the name of their farm [appearing] on a list”.