Betting on the land reform farm: so who will get lucky?
Where did agriculture, land reform & rural development minister Thoko Didiza suddenly find 700,000ha of state land to release” to black farmers on a 30-year leasehold scheme?
That is a large amount of land. One hectare is almost the size of two football fields. On average since 1994 the government has distributed 100,000ha a year, so this is seven years of land reform all at once. It should make a difference to the land hunger that lies behind calls for expropriation and land invasions. But will it?
The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) hosted a panel discussion last week at which researchers and land rights lobby groups raised doubts that this could be the land reform boon we have all been waiting for.
Both Prof Ruth Hall and land rights lobbyist Tshepo Fokane said that because the bulk of the released land is in the North West and Limpopo, it is likely that the 896 farms in question were not bought from white commercial farmers recently, but is land that was bought by the state to consolidate the bantustans back in the 1970s and ’ 80s. The catch is that much of this land is already occupied by communities and black farmers who have been there for many years.
Didiza has acknowledged this complication, saying a land inquiry process will investigate how individuals and communities occupying the land got access to it and how it is being used, and a decision will be taken on such occupations”.
The big question is, who will get the farms? Didiza proposes a sort of tender process. There will be adverts in local media and screening of individual applications by district beneficiary screening committees that will report to provincial committees, which will refer the decision to a national selection committee for final adjudication.
However, district-based allocation has been deeply problematic. Those with opportunities and political connections consistently make it to the front of the queue, says Fokane.
In a study done by the UWC unit it was found that 80% of beneficiaries of land reform were men and close to half were well-off businessmen from the district. State officials have benefited from land redistribution by getting farms for themselves and squeezing out beneficiaries who won’t pay bribes. They have even kicked black farmers off land they have been farming successfully for years.
Didiza mentioned a few criteria. This time, women would be prioritised and so would those with farming experience, though the completely inexperienced would not be excluded. But the struggle for land, which has led to the populist call for expropriation without compensation and which is driving the irrepressible land invasion in urban and periurban areas, won’t be solved by a tender process.
For this a different starting point is required. Who needs land? What rights should they have? And how does the state
which is enjoined by the constitution to provide citizens with both equitable access to land and tenure security — go about allocating it in a way that promotes these rights?
These are questions that have been sidelined by the government for the past 20 years. Even though SA went through “national liberation” there was no large-scale agrarian reform, which — as many developing countries have found — is a critical pillar of poverty alleviation and building sustainable livelihoods.
Instead, what has happened is a huge migration from rural areas to urban slums. The ANC (coaxed by the EFF) has responded by claiming that expropriation without compensation is the answer. On Friday, the government published a new Expropriation Bill, which along with the proposed amendment to section 25 of the constitution will make the circumstances where expropriation without compensation can apply explicit.
But it has been clear from the start that this is not the root of the problem. The new bill confirms that the government had the power to expropriate without compensation all along. What it lacked was the political will to do so. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s highlevel panel report in 2017 did an assessment of land reform, recommending new framework legislation to set standards for, and make institutional arrangements for, equitable access to land.
In the wider picture of economic justice, agrarian reform rates at the top of the list and could change millions of lives. It will be robbery of the rural poor and a danger to future prosperity if SA continues along the path it has laid, leasing land to the welloff and ignoring the real land hunger out there.