Land Reform in South Africa: What the Real Debate Should Be

Land reform is an emotional and politically charged issue in South Africa. Because the center of the African occupation by the colonial settlers was land. Successful land reform can help overcome this legacy by making it a focal point for the formation of divided national bonds. It can also serve as the foundation of an integrated society through a well-managed redistribution program.

But almost three decades after the first democratic elections in 1994, South Africa still has not been able to reform its land. This is not due to lack of initiative. Some communities and individuals have actually reclaimed their land. But for each of these stories there is another of a small farmer stuck in a remote area without the hope of a “failed” agricultural project or a livelihood.

Opinions differ on what went wrong with land reform and what should be done about it.

The first problem is that the subject often rears his head around election time. As the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), approaches its national election conference scheduled for December, the country could expect another heated debate over land reform. The debate will unfold at the ANC’s policy conference in July ahead of the election conference.

But debates in this charged environment generate more heat than matter. Decide the 2017 ANC Policy Conference to amend Article 25 of the Constitution. The political argument was that it would enable the occupation of land without compensation on certain conditions, which, in turn, would accelerate land reform.

But Tembeka Ngukukaitobi, a prominent lawyer on land reform, noted in 2018 and 2019 that land reform was not restricted by the constitution but rather by the limitations of power and the lack of political will on the part of the government.

Ngcukaitobi went to collect his views in a book, Land issues: South Africa’s failed land reform and the road aheadPublished in 2021.

His book should be part of the debate on land reform during the upcoming ANC conference. It provides insight into what an effective land reform program – and the institutions that provide it – could be.

Why land is important

Engkukitobi reflects the role of business in occupation and racism and hence its potential contribution to land reform. In it, he invited Sampi Tereblanche, a late economist at Stellenbosch University, who also flagged the role of business in contributing to compensatory justice.

Ngukukaitobi further argues that land reform should not be seen as just an agro-industrial problem. Rather, it should be seen as a multi-industry challenge involving non-agricultural players. His analysis based on this view was that white peasants were not the only beneficiaries of the land policy of the colonial and racist regimes. Most of those who have benefited from racism live in urban areas.

The cover of the book titled 'Land Matters'

In this regard, the proposals of a Land Reform Fund from the Land Reform and Agriculture Expert Advisory Panel in 2018 could be a perfect vehicle for businesses to contribute through grants for land reform.

Presumably, the Ngcukaitobi panel’s proposal should have been reflected.

His research draws heavily on archival material. He sheds light on the massive loss of black South African cattle in the years of occupation, from the late 1600s to the time of the war, through theft and murder, and in the late 1600s.

This insight brings home the point that black South Africans have lost more than land.

They have lost their livelihood and productive resources in the form of livestock.

He writes that the story of land grabbing will never be complete without understanding the loss of livestock of the tribals.

Cattle were a visible sign of wealth rather than land.

Unfinished work

The book also highlights the slow reality of land reform in South Africa. When the country became a democracy in 1994, white farmers owned 77.580 million hectares of agricultural land out of a total of 122 million hectares.

Ngcukaitobi writes that the ANC’s Restructuring and Development Program (RDP) has set a target of redistributing 30% of agricultural land in the first five years of the new democratic government. The RDP was the first socio-economic policy framework of the ANC government in 1994.

The government has missed this goal and has been changing goalposts ever since. The goal now is to reach 30% by 2030.

So far the achievements are small. There is a heated debate over exactly how far the government is from targets. Some researchers argue that land reform has been painfully slow. In my work with Professor Johan Carsten, an agricultural economist at Stellenbosch University, we estimate that a total of 13.2 million hectares (or 17%) have already been transferred from white landowners to state (3.08 million hectares) or black owners (10.135 million hectares). ) Through private and state-sponsored transactions, including land restoration.

These include recovery, redistribution, personal transactions, and state collection transactions.

If we add the hectare of land (2.339 million hectares) that was successfully identified for recovery, but the communities that were selected to receive financial compensation as a means of recovery, then the total area of ‚Äč‚Äčland reclaimed since 1994 is 15.56 million hectares. .

This is equivalent to 20% of the former white-owned land – closer to the target of 30% (23.25 million hectares) than is generally believed.

I am not referring to these figures to justify the relatively slow pace of land reform but to highlight the challenge of the lack of credible land data in South Africa. For effective policy-making, accurate information is key and we have suggested ways to expedite this process at different times.

Ngukukaitobi argues that the failure to implement the land reform policy and its three pillars of redistribution, recovery and tenure faithfully should be blamed for the weakness of the state, including corruption. Thus, blaming the Constitution for the slow pace of land reform – and calling for an amendment – is probably wrong.

Another critical aspect highlighted in the book is the historical role played by women in South African society and the role of women in land reform through a mirror of how they have not benefited from redistribution in the recent past.

Finally, there are some success stories that can be examined more deeply. Examples are joint ventures for land reform, especially in agriculture. Success stories are important because they provide insight into what can be done better in the future.

Overall, Land Matters is an important work that all South Africans thinking about the future of the country should read. The weaknesses of the institutions are repeatedly mentioned in the book. This is an important aspect that should be given priority by the government. It should strengthen the instruments of land reform and do much more with the establishment of land reform and agricultural development agencies, as already announced by the President.Conversation

Vandil Sihlobo, Senior Fellow, Department of Agricultural Economics, Stellenbosch University

This article has been republished from Conversations under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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