Don’t let land fall into wrong hands
One of the saddest illusions believed by many people in modern-day South Africa is that owning land will simply make all their problems vanish. However, that does not mean a thorough and equitable land redistribution programme is not necessary. And any such programme should focus on those living close to the bottom of the social pyramid … those who could use land productively to improve their lot in life and claw their way out of poverty.
So it is disturbing that history could be repeating itself as South Africa’s land reform programme appears to be heading down the same road as Zimbabwe, where it was the politically connected and the elite who benefitted.
A report, done by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies into State Land Lease and Disposal projects around the country, found that many of the farms were “allocated to wealthy beneficiaries”. A large number of these beneficiaries were “urban-based businessmen, traders and rural transport operators with significant investments outside farming”.
Only 18% of the farms were allocated to farm workers, while 82% went to “other types of beneficiaries, especially those with political influence”.
That is exactly what happened in Zimbabwe when land taken from white farmers from 2000 onwards mostly ended up in the hands of Zanu-PF officials loyal to then-president Robert Mugabe.
The land programme in Zimbabwe led to a collapse of significant parts of commercial agriculture, the effects of which are still felt to this day.
That must not be allowed to happen in this country. Subsistence farmers and poor people must be at the top of the list when land is handed out – and they must be given the maximum support by government to farm successfully.
Unless this is done, land will remain a political time bomb and the economy could lose one of its most productive sectors.