Man set to be first to have farm seized in South Africa calls it theft

‘Whichever way you dress it up, it’s theft’: EXCLUSIVE – White farmer who is set to become the first to have his £10m game reserve seized in South Africa’s controversial land grab policy says government just wants to mine for minerals

  • Johan Steenkamp, 67, says his £10million game reserve in South African is being seized by the government
  • He claims he bought uninhabited and unused land 20 years ago, but a tribe claims land is theirs 
  • He has been fighting to stop government buying it for ‘below value’ and has now been told to give it up 
  • Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa is trying to accelerate land expropriation  in South Africa 
  • New policy will see farmland owned by white farmers seized by the government without payment
  • Steenkamp calls it ‘theft’ and says government just wants to mine for coal and won’t give it to poor blacks
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The owner of the first South African farm lined up to have his land seized without payment or fair compensation blasted the government yesterday saying: ‘Whichever way they dress it up it is theft’.

Johan Steenkamp, 67, who co-owns a £10million hunting farm in Limpopo province, has been ordered to hand over his land, following a ten-year battle to stop the government buying it for a tenth of its value. 

Mr Steenkamp says Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans of redistribution of white-owned land to South Africa’s black poor is just a cover so that the government can get their hands on valuable coal deposits found under his farm land. 

Fighting: Johan Steenkamp, 67, pictured with his son, co-owns a £10million hunting farm in Limpopo and has been ordered to hand over his land

Mr Ramaphosa is trying to accelerate land reform to ‘undo a grave historical injustice’ against the black majority during colonialism and the apartheid era that ended in 1994.

Since the end of apartheid, the ANC party has followed a ‘willing-seller, willing-buyer’ model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

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However, Mr Ramaphosa now has announced plans to change the constitution to allow the ANC to take lands from white farmers without compensating them. 

Despite still being locked in a legal battle to either keep their farm or receive what they deem to be reasonable financial compensation, Mr Steenkamp and his business-partner received a letter earlier this year saying they should get ready to hand their keys over.

This would make them the first white South African landowners to become subjected to Ramaphosa’s controversial expropriation policy.

Mr Steenkamp, who has not revealed whether he has a ‘Plan B’, says he and his family have become so exhausted with the entire process and to ‘just move on’.

‘We have had enough and all we want is to go to court, and as the law says, get a fair price to sell.’

Mr Steenkamp and wife Sanet, 53, bought 3,300 hectares of land 21 years ago, which was then turned into the game reserve – they insist there was no one living on the land at the time

This £10million farm, the Akkerland Boerdery, is set to be seized by the government after just 10 percent of the asking price was offered

Game reserve: Pictures taken by Mrs Steenkamp on their game reserve in Limpopo

The news of the plans saw US President Donald Trump order an investigation into ‘farm seizures and expropriations’ as well as falsely claiming that there was a ‘large scale killing of white farmers’ in South Africa.

Today, Mr Ramaphosa hit back at Trump and defended his new policy, writing in Friday’s Financial Times.

‘By restricting the ownership of land to a small minority, the apartheid regime  ensured that one of the country’s most valuable economic resources would be severely underused.

‘This is no land grab. Nor is it an assault on the private ownership of property. Land reform in South Africa is a moral, social and economic imperative’. 

Many white farmers now fearing they will lose their land, insists it has been in their families for generations, that nothing existed there before, and it was legally bought and paid for.

In addition, violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa and 47 farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics from AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations. However, farm murders are at a 20-year low. 

Mr Steenkamp, 67, and wife Sanet, 53, bought 3,300 hectares of vacant land 21 years ago in Limpopo province, with plans to turn it into a thriving game reserve. 

Along with business-partner Arnold Cloete they set up the Akkerland Boerdry and set out plots for the impressive construction of the 300 luxury buildings set on two thriving game farms.

They planned to give 300 jobs to local people but their plans were spiked after a tribe put in an application claiming the land belonged to them and Coal for Africa also tried to buy them.

Since then the Akkerland Boerdry have been engulfed in a legal battle to keep and develop their land but in March this year they were sent an unprecedented legal letter by the state.

It said their land was to be audited and valued and that the keys to the estate would have to be handed over within seven days and they had to accept any valuation given to them.

Mr Steenkamp says the Akkerland Boerdery is valued at 200 million rand (£10.7m) but they were only offered 20 million rant (£1.07m) – a tenth of what he claims is the true value.

Mr Steenkamp says Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans of redistribution of white-owned land to South Africa’s black poor is just a cover so that the government can get their hands on valuable coal deposits found under his farm land

The hunting lodge’s Facebook page shows several pictures of the farm and wild animals

Wilderness: A giraffe and its calf looks out above the treetops on Akkerland

However South African law gives owners the right to dispute the difference and reach a fair settlement in court but in a mortifying new twist for farmers this process was ignored.

The notice to quit was handed over late on a Thursday before a weekend with a public holiday on the Friday and a Monday which the farmer claims was a deliberate ploy.

Mr Steenkamp said: ‘It meant I had to find a legal advocate prepared to work over the public holiday and to submit an injunction on the Tuesday in the land claims court.

‘Fortunately the injunction was granted although the Department of Rural Development and Land Affairs are opposing it and we are waiting for a court date now to be set.

‘But make no mistake this was an illegal attempt to force us off the land and seize our farm without giving us the legal right to achieve a fair valuation as set under the Constitution.

‘We were forced by a court to allow Coal for Africa to do drilling tests under our land and they found substantial deposits and ever since they have wanted us off our land cheaply.

Mr Steenkamp, pictured with his brother-in-law, and his business-partner received a letter earlier this year saying they should get ready to hand their keys over.

‘This attempted seizure of our farm is not about a noble attempt to redistribute the land to the poor of Africa but it is all about the government getting their hands on the minerals.

‘This is not about what is on the land but it is about what is underneath the land.

‘We have done our own tests on the land and we say the land is valued at R200 million but the Government expect us to take a tenth of that which make no mistake is pure theft.

‘There was absolutely nothing here when we bought it and the next thing we know a local tribe has put in a claim for the land and there is no evidence whatsoever to support that.

‘We fenced in the land and stocked it with animals and it was our plan to hire 300 local people to build a thriving estate in a game farm which would boost the local economy.

‘But then the coal company realised what we were sitting on and wanted our land for the minerals but they do not want to pay us a realistic price for the value of what we own.

‘We have so far spent 600,000 rand (£35,000) on legal fees trying to save our farm from seizure.

‘The situation is such now that we just want to move on as we have had enough and all we want is under the Constitution to go to court and as the law says get a fair price to sell.

Retort: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced plans to change the constitution to allow the ANC to take lands from white farmers without compensating them

‘For over 10 years we have been in a legal wrangle and unable to build the 300 homes for which we had bank backing and effectively have spent all this time without an income.

‘This is now an extremely important test case which will be heard at the Randburg Law Claims Court and if we lose, it means South African farmers have no property rights.

‘We have had to fight to get this far as we very nearly had the farm illegally seized but if the court goes along with the government valuation then the law is not being upheld.

‘The law as it stands states that the owner of expropriated land gets fair payment’ he said. 

Not everyone has had the determination of Mr Steenkamp, and many farmers are now desperately trying to sell their properties.

Union bosses say a record number of properties are for sale but nobody is buying, making the properties effectively worthless.

Cattle farmer Jo-an Engelbrecht told the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent his farm just outside Johannesburg was now ‘worth zero’.

‘We had several auctions in the last two or three weeks cancelled because there was no people interested in buying the land,’ he said.

‘Why would you buy a farm to know the government’s going to take it?’ 

Some farmers are leaving South Africa all together, and heading for Australia, where Immigration Minister Peter Dutton ended up sparking a diplomatic row with Pretoria in March.

Dutton, a right-winger, said that Canberra should give ‘special attention’ to white South African farmers seeking asylum on ‘humanitarian grounds’ because they faced a ‘horrific’ situation.

This proposal was however rejected, with Australia’s Foreign Minister  Julie Bishop making it clear that Australia’s humanitarian visa program was ‘non-discriminatory’.  

AgriSA, a union that largely represents white farm owners, said: ‘What makes the Akkerland case unique is that they apparently were not given the opportunity to first dispute the claim in court as the law requires’. 

AfriForum, a group representing South Africa’s white Afrikaner minority, has released a list of what it claims are 190 farms that the government is targeting for immediate seizure.

The South African governments’ Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has denied the validity of the list.

South Africa’s battle over land explained

President Cyril Ramaphosa has stated his plan is not a land grab

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is forging ahead with its plans to change the constitution to allow the expropriation of land without compensation. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended the plan this week, stating that it is not a question of ‘land grabs’ from whites who still own most of South Africa’s territory. 

Here are the key issues in the debate.


South Africa has a history of colonial conquest and dispossession that pushed the black majority into crowded urban townships and rural reserves.

The 1913 Native Lands Act made it illegal for Africans to acquire land beyond these reserves, which became known as ‘Homelands’.

While blacks account for 80 percent of South Africa’s population, the former homelands comprised just 13 percent of the land. The traditional leaders that oversaw the homelands still hold significant sway.

Estimates vary but the consensus is that most privately owned land remains in white hands, making it a potent symbol of the wider economic and wealth disparities that remain two decades after the end of white-minority rule.


Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a ‘willing-seller, willing-buyer’ model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks. Progress has been slow.

Based on a survey of title deeds, the government says blacks own four percent of private land, and only eight percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30 percent due to have been reached in 2014.

AgriSA, a farm industry group, says 27 percent of farmland is in black hands. Its figure includes state land and plots tilled by black subsistence farmers in the old homelands.

Critics allege that many farms transferred to emerging black farmers have failed because of a lack of state support, an allegation Ramaphosa denies.


The 17 million people who reside in the former homelands, a third of the population, are mostly subsistence farmers working tiny plots on communal land.

Critics of ANC land policy say that instead of seizing farmland from whites, such households should be given title deeds, turning millions into property owners. Reformers in the ANC have signalled their support for such a policy.

Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who headed a panel of inquiry into the land issue, described traditional leaders as ‘village tin-pot dictators.’

Tribal chiefs were not amused, and warned the ANC in July to exclude territory under their control from its land reform drive. The Zulu King evoked the Anglo-Zulu war and the spectre of conflict over the issue.


Markets and investors are wary because of concerns about wider threats to property rights. The rand fell sharply and government bonds weakened after Ramaphosa’s announcement.

Yet analysts say South Africa is unlikely to follow the route of Zimbabwe, where the chaotic and violent seizure of white-owned farms under former president Robert Mugabe triggered economic collapse.

ANC officials have said unused land will be the main target.

Still, the risks are substantial. South Africa feeds itself and is the continent’s largest maize producer and the world’s second-biggest citrus exporter.

Agriculture accounts for less than three percent of national output but employs 850,000 people, five percent of the workforce. Threats to production would also fan food inflation, hurting low-income households.


Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters, the core of the ANC’s support, ahead of elections next year.

The move also cuts into the platform of the EFF party, headed by firebrand Julius Malema, who has made land expropriation without compensation his clarion call.

Trump’s comments inflamed the high-octane debate on land, a country that remains deeply racially divided and unequal nearly a quarter of a century after Nelson Mandela swept to power at the end of apartheid.

Violent crime is a serious problem across South Africa and 47 farmers were killed in 2017-18, according to statistics from AgriSA, an association of agricultural associations. However the same figures show that farm murders are at a 20-year low.

But the issue has been a focus of outrage by right-wing organisations in South Africa and abroad.

Afriforum, which mostly champions white people’s rights in South Africa, has said it will intensify its campaign to inform the international community regarding the threat to property rights and farm murders in SA.


Some legal experts argued there was no need to amend the constitution because Section 25 states that if land is taken from a property owner, ‘compensation … must be just and equitable.’

To some, ‘just and equitable’ could mean no compensation, depending on the circumstances in which previous occupants or owners were deprived of or removed from the land, either in British colonial times or under apartheid.

Ramaphosa has said South Africans are taking part in public hearings on land reforms that are being held countrywide, as they wanted the constitution to make clear when compensation was or was not justified.

The ANC is then expected to take its proposal to parliament, where a two-thirds majority is needed to change the constitution. Together with the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), it has more than enough votes in the 400-seat parliament to effect the change. (Editing by James Macharia and Mark John) 

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