South Africa’s land reform programme, adopted by the African National Congress (ANC) led government in 1994, has a long way to go in redressing the historical injustice of land dispossession, denial of access to land and forced removals.
Now 16 years into democracy, landless people hope that government under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma, and Rural Development and Land Reform Minister, Gugile Nkwinti, will do more than just reviewing the 2014 deadline to redistribute a third of the country’s farmland from white owned farmers to the black majority.
The government should be commended for promulgating the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 , which allows those who lost their property as a result of the Land Act of 1913, to claim back their land. Ten years into democracy, a total of 36 489 claims have already been settled involving about 85 000 households. This is an achievement considering the fact that 90 percent of the land was in the hands of whites, who made up less than 10 percent of the population when apartheid was dismantled.
Black people need their ancestral land. Many of them aim to utilise it for agricultural production [subsistence or commercial], for settlement or for non-agricultural enterprises. Without land, it will be impossible for them to participate in the mainstream economy.
Government has already indicated its intention to review both the Land Restitution Act of 1994 and the principle of ‘willing buyer and willing seller’. Like many South Africans, policy makers included, Nkwinti also shares the sentiment that the ‘willing buyer and willing seller’ principle has not worked. The problem with this principle is that land owners are not obliged to sell their land, even if communities have sufficient proof that it belongs to them. In addition, this principle has created room for land owners to charge exorbitant prices, especially when selling the land to government for redistribution. This in my view is a deliberate attempt by land owners to frustrate the government and beneficiaries, who have been waiting for their land for many years.
In the same vein, Agri South Africa has been arguing that accusations of farmers asking ‘excessive’ prices for their land will not detract the dismal failure of land reform. If Agri SA is correct in saying that such accusations are not taking into account valuation processes and market, which it says are beyond farmers’ control, then we will need to rethink land reform. However, I am tempted to partially disagree with Agri South Africa president, Johannes MÖller, when he says government should blame mismanagement, corruption, clumsiness and laxity within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, and not only commercial farmers, for the land reform failures. Land reform is not the sole responsibility of the government. It should be driven by government, in partnership with farmers, CSOs and other relevant stakeholders. Who doesn’t know that there are farmers who continue to resist land reform?
Apart from land redistribution, Agri South Africa should consider encouraging and educating famers on the necessity of land reform. Why can’t these farmers, together with Agri South Africa, come up with creative ways such as selling part of the land they are not using to government for redistribution? Government should also provide incentives for farmers who agree to sell their unused land. There should also be an incentive for farmers who volunteer to mentor the land reform beneficiaries or emerging farmers from historically disadvantaged communities. In this way, both commercial and emerging farmers can play a key role in ensuring South Africa becomes a food basket in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.
It is the responsibility of all South Africans to offer solutions to the land reform programme. It was irresponsible and dangerous for the Democratic Alliance (DA) to suggest that ‘many farms already redistributed in terms of the country’s land reform programme are failing because the beneficiaries have little or no interest in agriculture’. As someone who comes from a rural community which lost land as a result of the Land Act of 1913, I think the DA is insensitive and should not be allowed to dominate the discourse on land reform. I find their view on land reform totally biased and not helping the country. Its report entitled ‘Land Crisis Report’, argues that, “80 percent of the people [given farms] just wanted the land.” The report is not offering any lessons on land reform.
It would appear that government is also frustrated with the land reform process. Why did government opt for the ‘use it or lose it’ policy when repossessing an ostrich farm in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria? The repossession followed demeaning reports regarding the poor conditions of the ostriches. Instead of providing financial resources or training; government requested the Phaphamang Ma-Afrika cooperative to relinquish them from the lease agreement they had with the Department of Land Affairs. I think government should have done something to help capacitate Phaphamang Ma-Afrika to be able to run the farm properly.
It is pointless to give people back their land without providing them with financial resources and/or skills. Historically, black people have relied on land for food production. It is therefore necessary for government to ensure that the beneficiaries are skilled and supported financially. In addition, it should also encourage beneficiaries to establish cooperatives to enable them to work as formal structures. This will enable government, donors and other roleplayers to engage them.
Communities should be assisted to initiate initiatives that will help them run income generation projects and have access to the markets for their products. The ‘use it or lose it’ policy had the potential to reverse all the gains made since 1994. Furthermore, this policy further victimised the beneficiaries, who need support from government to run sustainable projects on the land.
On one hand, many South Africans trust Zuma’s promise of speeding up land reform. The poor wait to see how government plans to review the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994, scrap the ‘willing buyer willing policy’ principle, or address corruption, mismanagement, clumsiness and laxity within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. However, reduced funding arising from the global economic crisis and domestic recession threatens government’s ability to meet the 2014 deadline of redistributing 30 percent of the land to the poor.
On the other hand, I expect the African Union (AU) to work together with the regional bodies and member states to implement land reform. However, the AU and regional bodies should acknowledge that land reform policies of each country are informed by that country’s colonial experiences. Majority of these countries rely on donor funding and taking land from land owners associated with donor countries can drive many of these countries into the same route travelled by Zimbabwe.
- Butjwana Seokoma is information coordinator at SANGONeT.