Land access issues stall wind energy plan in South Africa
- Small-scale farmers in South Africa are suffering from failed projects
- They have challenges accessing land such as competing use for wind energy
- Programmes that aim to help them have unclear guidelines and empower the state
It was once one of the largest tea producers in the southern hemisphere. But today, the Magwa Tea Estate of South Africa is a ghost farm.
The 2,800 hectar tea estate is made up of unkempt tea leaves, buffered by the eerie silence of empty labourers' quarters. A nearby dairy and calf-raising facility is submerged in shrubbery.
Next to the tea estate, another farm lies derelict, its vandalised buildings filled with cow dung. The farm's giant mill now stores a few bags of fertiliser belonging to the Lambasi Communal Property Association (CPA).
The Lambasi CPA, made up of 668 households, won a land restitution settlement for a 12,215 hectare piece of land in 2006.
A decade later, they still have not received any title deeds for the land and 40 million rand (about US$2.6 million) in development and compensation grants.
“The headmen have a real problem with CPAs because they see them as tools of their disempowerment.”
Pheli Mnyaka, Lambasi Communal Property Association (CPA)
Aside the Magwa Tea Estate's 2,800 hectares, parts of the remaining 9,415 hectares had eventually been ran to the ground by the parastatal company Transkei Agricultural Corporation (Tracor).
By 1998, South Africa’s Eastern Cape Development Corporation liquidated the estate, whose fortunes have continued to wax and wane since then.
But today, these failed developmental projects, the unresolved land ownership issue have resulted in suffering and frustrations to small-scale farmers who once benefitted hugely from these facilities. The farmers are desiring better livelihoods.
Small-scale farming and big plans
Some members of the claimant families and the other families living on the land have, under the name the Lambasi Development Committee, started to use virgin parts of the land for small-scale farming.
“Our attitude now has been to do what we can,” says Nhlanhla Shibe, the Lambasi CPA’s acting chairman and a member of the Lambasi Development Committee. “But there had been greater plans to develop the land.”
Pheli Mnyaka retired CPA chairman, adds: “We, as the CPA, have discussed possible developments with various companies. “Our settlement agreement included use of the tea estate and we [have] already had long discussions with Astrum energy [a renewable energy company] about renting part of the land. There was supposed to be an agreement [from the government] on how things were to run with the tea estate.”
In 2013, Astrum, began talks with the Lambasi CPA.
Why the plan stalled
Florian Kroeber, a managing director at Astrum energy in South Africa says the project stalled, not because of the people involved, but because the CPAs are land claimants who are supposed to have access to their land but they do not.
“Every contract has to be co-signed by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and they are just not forthcoming with any documents,” he says.
“We, as provincial departments, can’t help these delays because we have to comply with a checklist.”
Bahlekile Keikelame, Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform
The Eastern Cape, which is one of the South Africa’s poorest and most under-developed provinces, has secured a substantial portion of South Africa's wind power allocation so far, with 16 wind farms out of a total of 31 nationally. However, all except one are located outside the former homelands.
Homelands were established by the apartheid government to remove black people from urban areas and confined them to ethnically identified so-called areas of origin. In 1976, Transkei became the first homeland to be independent.
Former homelands represent about 40 per cent of the Eastern Cape’s land mass and 60 per cent of its population. But the majority of wind farms in the Eastern Cape are situated in two areas: Jeffrey’s Bay (five) and Cookhouse (five).This perpetuates long-term developmental and economic imbalances.
Farmers could earn income in rentals alone for accommodating wind turbines on their property. For example, according to project design documents from South Africa’s Department of Energy, rental earnings for one turbine can reach up to US$6,500 a year.
Developers also upgrade and maintain the farmers’ roads.
Shibe, Lambasi CPA's incumbent head, views the conundrum as a triple-headed beast of ward councillors, traditional leaders and CPAs.
Lambasi, which includes Magwa, comprises seven villages, divided into three wards and, at the moment, one recognised chief. “So there are three councillors and one chief – and all these people have competing interests,” says Shibe outside a community hall in Lambasi. Besides homesteads and gravel roads, the hall is the only bureaucratic building to be seen in this part of Lambasi.
Mnyaka says, “The headmen have a real problem with CPAs because they see them as tools of their disempowerment.” CPAs were landholding institutions introduced in 1996 under the CPA Act, to enable groups to organise themselves into legal bodies in order to receive title deeds either from restitution or redistribution programmes.
Such programmes have unclear eligibility guidelines, prioritise commercial farming and give power to the state to own the land rather than transferring it to beneficiaries. 
Challenges of accessing land
Bahlekile Keikelame, a manager of the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s provincial state land, explains that in the former homeland areas most land is unregistered state land.
The required piece of land needs to be surveyed and registered by the state before a business proposal is sent to the provincial vesting and disposal committee. The committee can then recommend that the minister give a long-term lease on the land, if the people occupying the land are aware of the development and of the revenue due to them.
“We, as provincial departments, can’t help these delays because we have to comply with a checklist,” says Keikelame.
According to Lambasi headman Mthuthuzeli Mkwedini, the CPAs do not have powers superseding the “tribal authority”, a situation he says was reiterated to all parties.
“CPAs are in rural areas and therefore cannot call autonomous meetings or take autonomous decisions,” Mkwedini explains.
Disclaimer: This piece was co-produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk and the Mail & Guardian newspaper in South Africa, as part of a science journalism capacity building initiative, funded by the Wellcome Trust.