Land re­form is ‘cap­tured’

New study re­veals ma­jor flaws in govern­ment’s re­dis­tri­bu­tion pro­gramme

CityPress - - Business - DEWALD VAN RENS­BURG dewald.vrens­burg@city­press.co.za

South Africa’s in­creas­ingly busi­nes­sori­en­tated land re­form pro­gramme has opened the door for “elite cap­ture” with busi­nesses – of­ten white owned and multi­na­tional – be­com­ing the real win­ners, while black “ben­e­fi­cia­ries” lan­guish with­out any for­mal rights to the land. New re­search in­di­cates Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s re­newed prom­ises to do away with the “will­ing seller, will­ing buyer” prin­ci­ple this year – some­thing first promised at the 2005 Na­tional Land Sum­mit – ob­scure the enor­mous prob­lems that crop up once the state owns the land.

“South Africans are de­bat­ing the land ques­tion in a to­tally my­opic way,” says Ruth Hall, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Poverty, Land and Agrar­ian Stud­ies, a unit of the Univer­sity of the Western Cape.

“[The de­bate] is all about how you get the land. That is not a tiny thing, but it only solves one prob­lem.”

In a new ar­ti­cle in the aca­demic jour­nal Re­view of African Po­lit­i­cal Econ­omy this month, Hall and col­league Them­bela Kepe from the Univer­sity of Toronto present their find­ings from a sam­ple of 11 ran­domly se­lected land re­form projects in the Sarah Baart­man dis­trict of the Eastern Cape, which they stud­ied over the course of three years.

This was in re­sponse to a re­quest from the Eastern Cape pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­ture.

In the ar­ti­cle, the two aca­demics ar­gue that years of shift­ing poli­cies have cre­ated a “con­torted re­form ... gov­erned by state of­fi­cials, con­sul­tants and agribusi­ness strate­gic part­ners con­cerned with sur­veil­lance and con­trol of ‘ben­e­fi­cia­ries’ in ‘projects’”.

Most of the black peo­ple in­volved have to set­tle for “pre­car­i­ous ten­ure on un­sub­di­vided com­mer­cial farms now owned by the state”, claim Hall and Kepe.

“This is not an ar­gu­ment against land re­form,” Hall told City Press.

“It can and should be made to work.”

PAST AND PRESENT

South Africa’s land re­form pol­icy started out with the aim to fund black peo­ples’ ac­qui­si­tion of small pieces of land for small-scale farm­ing and set­tle­ment.

Un­der pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki the em­pha­sis shifted to pro­mot­ing pur­chases by big­ger black cap­i­tal­ist farm­ers, say Hall and Kepe.

From 2006 on­wards, the model trans­formed into the cur­rent Proac­tive Land Ac­qui­si­tion Strat­egy (Plas) and ul­ti­mately the State Land Lease and Dis­posal Pol­icy of 2013.

The sys­tem is now premised on state own­er­ship and long-term leases for ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

It now takes 50 years of rent­ing state land be­fore ben­e­fi­cia­ries get the right to ap­ply to pur­chase the land.

One of Hall and Kepe’s find­ings is that none of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the 11 projects knew about this new pol­icy and had ex­pected to ac­tu­ally own the land at some point.

What’s worse, none of the ben­e­fi­cia­ries had leases ei­ther, de­spite some be­ing on the land for a decade.

The main ar­gu­ment Hall and Kepe make is that the cur­rent Plas it­er­a­tion of land re­form un­der Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment and Land Re­form Min­is­ter Gugile Nk­winti is lead­ing to in­cred­i­bly per­verse out­comes, at least at the projects they stud­ied in the Eastern Cape.

Speak­ing to City Press, Hall said that the way in which newly ac­quired state land was al­lo­cated was un­trans­par­ent and seems com­pletely ran­dom.

“In some cases, a size­able com­mu­nity may get a small farm, while in other cases, govern­ment buys a large farm with sub­stan­tial in­fra­struc­ture and even live­stock, and gives it to a sin­gle fam­ily,” says the ar­ti­cle.

“The de­part­ment is buy­ing these farms and leas­ing them to a friend or who­ever hap­pens to be there. If no one makes a go of it, they just tell the un­em­ployed farm work­ers that they can stay on,” Hall told City Press.

One “typ­i­cal” project is a farm near Gra­ham­stown that was al­lo­cated to an en­gi­neer liv­ing hours away in East Lon­don. “He didn’t re­ally farm it and got kicked off,” said Hall. “I don’t think we can re­ally call it re­dis­tri­bu­tion. What is re­dis­tri­bu­tion if you are not se­cur­ing leases? You are ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing a pop­u­la­tion of squat­ters on state land.”

EN­TER BIG BUSI­NESS

For Hall and Kepe, there is po­ten­tially an even big­ger prob­lem with the lease­hold sys­tem.

Two of their projects did have leases with the state, but these weren’t held by the ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

In­stead, the land was leased di­rectly to “strate­gic part­ners”.

Un­der the Plas sys­tem, ben­e­fi­cia­ries only get re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion fund­ing if they have one of these part­ners, which is usu­ally an ex­ist­ing agribusi­ness or white farmer, of­ten the pre­vi­ous owner of the land in ques­tion. Hall and Kepe call this “elite cap­ture” of land re­form. “Some of these strate­gic part­ner­ships are ac­tu­ally a mech­a­nism for pub­lic funds to be chan­nelled into pri­vate en­ter­prises,” said Hall.

“Some of them are white South African-owned, some are multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that are es­sen­tially farm­ing state sub­si­dies.

“They are get­ting land for free, or ex­tremely cheaply, and then they also get sub­si­dies un­der the re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion pro­gramme.”

Hall and Kepe’s sam­ple of land re­form projects hap­pens to in­clude one con­trolled by Mau­ri­tius-based SA Fruit Ex­porters (Safe), through its BEE part­ner­ship with lo­cal busi­ness­man Evans Nevondo, called Bono Hold­ings.

Safe and Bono are pro­lific strate­gic part­ners and run about 10 state farms.

They were widely con­demned in 2015 for host­ing canned hunts for tourists on one of these state-owned farms in Lim­popo, while the SABC’s Spe­cial As­sign­ment ac­cused the com­pany of what is known as farm flip­ping at an­other Western Cape project.

This is when you first ac­quire farms, then sell them to the govern­ment for a profit – only to have the govern­ment lease it back to you at a low rate.

While much of the de­bate in South Africa is still about pay­ing mar­ket prices for land, Hall and Kepe say the pol­icy ac­tu­ally “takes the mar­ket to the next level”.

“The state ... is not challenging the supremacy of pri­vate prop­erty, but rather be­com­ing a sig­nif­i­cant player in the land mar­ket.

“Who is land distri­bu­tion meant to be for? Is it meant to be for the poor? Is it meant to be for the mid­dle class? Is it ac­tu­ally meant to be for large BEE com­pa­nies, or white-owned ones, or multi­na­tion­als with BEE part­ners?” asked Hall.

“We see quite a mix of sit­u­a­tions, all of which are prob­lem­atic in some way.”

I don’t think we re­ally can call it re­dis­tri­bu­tion. What is re­dis­tri­bu­tion if you are not se­cur­ing leases? You are ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing a pop­u­la­tion of squat­ters on state land

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