Business Day

Betting on the land reform farm: so who will get lucky?

- CAROL PATON Paton is editor at large.

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.

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