Land re­form fail­ure: a strate­gic plot?

Farmer's Weekly (South Africa) - - From The Editor - Denene Eras­mus Ed­i­tor FW

If you have been in­volved in the farm­ing sec­tor in South Africa for the past decade, you have also prob­a­bly heard the ru­mour that state de­part­ments are em­broiled in a sin­is­ter plot to make land re­form projects fail on pur­pose. Ac­cord­ing to the ru­mour, one of the rea­sons for govern­ment want­ing land re­form to fail is so that it can ‘prove’ that the will­ing-buyer/will­ing-seller ap­proach has not worked. This ar­gu­ment doesn’t make much sense, and there is no proof this plot ex­ists, which is why I have al­ways given the na­tional and pro­vin­cial de­part­ments of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and land re­form the ben­e­fit of the doubt. I have ar­gued that it is due to in­com­pe­tence that land re­form has been such a dis­as­ter, and not be­cause of an or­ches­trated plot.

How­ever, one of the ar­ti­cles in this week’s is­sue ( see story on pg 36) has me won­der­ing whether the ANC-led govern­ment truly has any real in­ten­tion to achieve ef­fec­tive land re­form and see black farm­ers suc­ceed.

The ar­ti­cle tells the far too com­mon story of a pro­duc­tive farm that was bought by govern­ment, trans­ferred to the ben­e­fi­ciary com­mu­nity, and looted of ev­ery­thing that could be sold for a quick buck be­fore be­ing aban­doned and left di­lap­i­dated and un­pro­duc­tive by those same ben­e­fi­cia­ries. It re­ally is a pity that the leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing land re­form makes no pro­vi­sion to hold ben­e­fi­cia­ries ac­count­able for the as­sets they ac­quire in these trans­ac­tions. In this in­stance, the Mpumalanga Depart­ment of Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment and Land Re­form, which bought the Richter­shoek farm for R27,5 mil­lion in 2006, ap­proached Pet­ros Sit­hole, who worked as an ex­ten­sion of­fi­cer for the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries for many years, to be the care­taker of the farm to pre­vent fur­ther loot­ing by the 72 farm­work­ers who had been awarded the land.

But Sit­hole did much more than that. He suc­cess­fully ap­plied to lease the farm from the depart­ment and used a R14 mil­lion re­cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion grant and much of his prof­its to painstak­ingly re­build it and sup­port other de­vel­op­ing farm­ers in the area.

How­ever, Sit­hole re­cently re­ceived no­tice from the depart­ment that govern­ment had ended his lease and that he could be evicted from the farm, which is to be re­turned to the for­mer ben­e­fi­cia­ries who plun­dered and aban­doned it. Ac­cord­ing to Sit­hole, none of the farm­work­ers who were among the orig­i­nal ben­e­fi­cia­ries made any at­tempt to help him and learn from him dur­ing his ef­forts to re­turn the farm to a pro­duc­tive busi­ness.

I have no doubt that if Sit­hole does get evicted from the farm, those farm­work­ers will re­turn, only to again pil­lage the prop­erty be­fore blam­ing their in­abil­ity to make a liv­ing off the land on the in­suf­fi­cient sup­port they have re­ceived from the state.

I ab­so­lutely agree that land re­form ben­e­fi­cia­ries need to re­ceive ad­e­quate sup­port from the farm­ing sec­tor and the state to help them suc­ceed. But my sym­pa­thies lie with those black farm­ers who have demon­strated that they gen­uinely want to farm and have made nu­mer­ous ap­peals to govern­ment for sup­port, with­out suc­cess.

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