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economic and financial commitment – and a fundamental restructuring of
the rural economy – are needed if South African land reform is to
progress. Does a raft of new legislation signal renewed vigour on the
part of the ANC?
On 19th June, South Africa will mark the centenary of the 1913 Natives’ Land Act,
which effectively excluded the black population from the ownership of
some 90% of land. The emotive issue of the land reform programme,
initiated in 1994 by the African National Congress (ANC) to redress
historical injustices, is once more to the fore.
During a recent budget debate in the South African Parliament, an
outgoing Freedom Front Plus MP, Pieter Groenewald, warned the government
that “whipping up emotions” about land reform threatens to create a
“Zimbabwe situation.” Gugile Nkwinti, Minister in the Department of
Rural Development and Land Reform (RDLR), responded disarmingly by
calling the comparison with Robert Mugabe an “honour”.
Warnings of the land issue being a “time-bomb” or a “tinder box” have
thus far proved alarmist, given the lack of significant, coordinated
protest to the slow progress of reform over the last 19 years. But
against the backdrop of subdued economic growth, widespread industrial
unrest and rising inequality, meandering land and agrarian reform is
susceptible to political opportunism. During his leadership of the ANC
Youth League, Julius Malema made expropriation of white-owned land one
of the League’s main rallying calls. “The land question must be resolved, if needs be the hard way,” Malema said, quoting Oliver Tambo – an emblematic figure in ANC history.
Still waiting… In
1996, two years after the end of apartheid, some 60,000 white commercial
farmers owned almost 70% of land classified as agricultural and leased a
further 19%. The ANC pledged to redistribute 30% of white-owned
agricultural land to black farmers by 1999, and to restitute property
lost as a result of racist legislation. By 2012, some 7.95m hectares had
been transferred, about a third of the 24.6m originally targeted. An
estimated US$3.2 billion was spent on the land reform programme between
1994 and 2013 – equivalent to a single year’s budget for housing
slow progress of land redistribution and high cost of land restitution
have been pinned on the adherence to a willing seller, willing buyer
(WSWB) principle. In the absence of compulsion, most landowners have
been reluctant to sell to the state. Collusion between sellers, land
valuers and government officials – and instances of corruption – have
inflated market prices and made purchases prohibitively expensive.
WSWB has been abandoned and replaced by expropriation with “just and
equitable” compensation, as is sanctioned by the South African
Constitution. The government hopes that a new Expropriation Bill, the
introduction of land ceilings and the creation of a valuer general will
speed up land transfers and prevent inflation of land prices. Sceptics
predict more red tape, lengthy legal challenges from landowners – and
the alienation of white commercial farmers.
Complex legal issues present further obstacles to land reform. Section
25 of the constitution both guarantees secure property rights and
obliges the state to “enable citizens to gain access to land on an
equitable basis.” The ANC government also has to maintain its appeal to
core voters and international investors alike. An estimated 62% of the
population is urban.
While land dispossession was a historical event, solutions must be
found amid the economic and social realities of contemporary South
Africa. Although the speed of redistribution matters, simple shunting of
hectares is not sufficient. Land reform must go hand-in-hand with a
restructuring of the rural economy. This may take a generation – or
Big farms, few jobs
Successive administrations in Pretoria have equated national food
security with large-scale commercial farming – a sector dominated by
white South Africans. The potential for millions of black smallholders
to increase production, raise incomes and create much needed jobs has
been overlooked. This was the bedrock of agricultural transformation
which fuelled the rapid economic growth of most South-east Asian
economies. In South Africa, the government has prioritised grafting
redistributed land onto existing commercial units. Much of this land has
been deemed “no longer productive” by RDLR.
Successful large farms will always have a key role in South Africa’s
agricultural economy. But the current model is not compatible with a
critical need to create more rural jobs. Between 2006 and 2012, the
number of South Africans employed in agriculture fell from 1.09m to
661,000. Rural unemployment stands at 52%, twice the national average.
Acute poverty is rife in rural areas.
Alarmingly frequent murders of white farmers usually feature
prominently in coverage of the land issue in foreign newspapers. Yet,
rather than being an expression of a determination to seize land, rural
crime in South Africa is mostly prompted by astounding – and rising –
inequality and a historically antagonistic relationship between white
commercial farmers, black labourers and local communities. Some farmers’
associations have acknowledged that their responsibilities to
surrounding communities have fundamentally altered and need urgent attention. Others have proved far more resistant to change.
It is far too soon to predict whether the reinvigorated debate about
land reform, and the accompanying flurry of legislation, translates into
tangible results. But the ANC’s undertaking to create a million
agriculture-related jobs by 2030 might suggest that it is beginning to
recognise a real opportunity in agriculture. It is clear that if this
opportunity is to be realised, a bolder – and more wholesale – approach
to restructuring South Africa’s rural economy is needed. To find out
more, see Africa Research Institute’s most recent briefing note: Waiting for the green revolution: Land reform in South Africa.
1994 pledge by the African National Congress (ANC) to transfer 30% of
white-owned agricultural land to black farmers has been undermined by a
lack of political will and financial commitment. Other policy priorities
have taken precedence over land and agrarian reform. While millions of
hectares have been transferred, acute poverty and unemployment are rife
in rural areas. These notes assess the progress of the land reform
programme and emphasise the importance of – and opportunity in –
a bolder approach to this emotive issue.
the eve of local elections in November 2012, ARI interviewed ten
prominent Somalilanders, including the three Speakers of the House of
Representatives, two government ministers, MPs, civil society activists
and representatives of women’s organisations. The conversations
on the way in which political stability has been secured in the two
decades since the landmark 1993 Conference of Elders of the Communities
of Somaliland in the city of Borama, western Somaliland.