FEW ISSUES in contemporary South Africa arouse as much emotion as “the land question”. Given SA’s history, it is hardly surprising that land reform should generate so much political heat. Black South Africans were devastated by land dispossession and disparities in ownership. Today, land still remains a symbol of inequality and social exclusion.

It is for these reasons that in 2010 the government launched its ‘Land Recapitalisation and Development Programme’ by the then newly established Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. Recapitalisation is achieved through a tripartite agreement between government, which buys farms in distress, emerging farmers, who lease the farms and make them productive, strategic partner or BEE approved corporations, who mentor the beneficiaries.

The objective is to increase food production, food security, commercialisation of small farmers and employment opportunities. But this agrarian ideal has been tarnished by greed. According to Corruption Watch, abuse of power by government officials is rife (almost 65%], including corruption in procurement processes and bribery of officials (14.3% in each category).

Examples of corruption include:

  • Registering portions of farms earmarked for black-owned farming co-operative for themselves, other public officials or private companies.
  • Delaying the registration of the farms to co-operatives.
  • Colluding with unethical multinationals
  • Imposing strategic partners (SPs) on the cooperatives, without following proper procurement processes.
  • Siphoning off the funds allocated to the farming projects, including the profits.


In the first part of an ongoing investigation Special Assignment exposes the allegations against SAFE – a powerful multinational fruit exporter that, through its BEE company, BONO, has secured major government contracts to manage farms earmarked for recapitalisation. The companies are currently managing a farm in De Doorns, called Nirwanda. In 2012, government purchased it for the purpose of recapitalisation. The farm’s legal beneficiaries, the Big Five Farming Co-operative, have allegedly been coerced into accepting BONO as a strategic partner – a company they do not trust and who they allege is intent on cheating them out of their rightful due as land reform beneficiaries.

Special Assignment’s investigations have revealed that SAFE is allegedly exploiting government’s land reform policies by selling farms to government at a huge profit and then receiving more funding to recapitalise them. Furthermore, SAFE is allegedly using its BEE company, BONO as a front, exploiting black empowerment for the purpose of self-enrichment. In this episode titled ‘By their Fruits’ Special Assignment has only begun to scratch the surface of corruption that is turning the fruits of land reform into a bitter harvest.

Watch “By Their Fruits” produced by Hazel Friedman, on Special Assignment – broadcast Sundays on SABC 3 at 20:30PM. Repeated Wednesdays at 23:30PM.