Thursday, November 22, 2007

(MAIL & GUARDIAN) Land inequality in SA a 'ticking time bomb'

Land inequality in SA a 'ticking time bomb'
Fran Blandy | Muldersdrift, South Africa
19 November 2007 07:12

For more than a decade, Molefi Selibo has been sent from pillar to post by the South African authorities in a futile quest to own a plot of land for his family. "Land to us, it is a very key issue. There is a hunger for land in South Africa," says Selibo as he looks out across the rolling green hills of Muldersdrift which he still one day hopes to transform into a thriving village.

"It is very, very, very frustrating. It is more than 10 years. People become disillusioned, they start questioning whether this thing is progressing," says Selibo, eyeing the land which lies fallow.

His frustration is indicative of a wider sense of disillusionment about the pace of land reforms in post-apartheid South Africa.

Thirteen years on from the end of white rule, the World Bank is warning the issue of land ownership, which has already proved toxic across the border in Zimbabwe, is "a time bomb" that could blow up if not defused.

The land at Muldersdrift, about 30km west of Johannesburg, is the third property the Ethembalethu (Our Hope) community has tried to buy and develop in a ten-year battle with stubborn white land-owners, conflicting government policies and miles of bureaucratic red tape.

South Africa's land ministry admitted earlier this month that drastic measures were necessary to save the country's land reform programme, whose slow delivery has sparked anger and fears of Zimbabwe-style land grabs.

Despite the government maintaining it is "committed to stability" and using a system of payment for land and negotiation with white farmers, patience is wearing thin for those awaiting land.

At the onset of democracy in 1994, about 87% of agricultural land in the country was owned by white South Africans, who form less than 10% of the population.

Thirteen years later only 4% of land, or four-million hectares has been transferred to black South Africans, and the ministry's annual report says it will be a "serious challenge" to reach its target of 30% -- 25-million hectares -- by 2014.

In 1996, Selibo and others living in Muldersdrift had a dream to become self-sufficient.

A group of about 250 families started putting away R100 a month, until they saved enough to make their first purchase offer.

The community has since faced numerous obstacles, two cancelled sale agreements, court battles, as well as an out-of-court settlement where white landowners paid them not to move into their neighbourhood.

Now, since 2001, they have an agreement to occupy the 30,8ha property owned by the municipality, but have still not won the right to develop or farm on the land.

"It has cost us almost all the money we have saved," said Selibo.

"It has gone to paying the consultants to do the studies that are required. We have been going from pillar to post."

The land ministry has come under fire for its chaotic record-keeping, its failure to fill staff vacancies and the dismal state of its financial affairs, with the department's director general ousted last month.

Chief land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya said that land reform had been hampered by opposition from landowners who dispute the validity of land claims and demand exorbitant prices.

He said when the government tried to fast-track the process, "prophets of doom" suggested the country was going the same route as neighbouring Zimbabwe.

"We do not want to see what has happened in Zimbabwe and we will always ensure that our land reform programme remains socially, economically and politically sound."

However Rogier van den Brink, World Bank country economist to South Africa, said time was running out to resolve the land issue peacefully.

"The World Bank has always said that a land inequality of this magnitude is a ticking time bomb, at some point some politician will run with this.

"What happened in Zimbabwe, little did we know it was the president of the country who would run with this issue. You cannot predict when and how a land crisis will emerge."

Back at Muldersdrift, Selibo says the community has been battling an absence of any clear policy to help black South Africans buy land in areas near towns.

However over the hill, a high-income development which will eventually include 120 houses, has surged ahead, easily gaining planning permission.

"Each and every landowner is opposing this development. People go far to prevent others from having a better life," said Selibo, who is employed as a civil servant dealing with land issues.

He said the community did not want to build another township where people lived in appalling conditions.

"We have now allocated a site for a primary school. We also planned to have community facilities, a hall and a taxi rank.

"The difference is here we also look at the agricultural side. Here there are no shacks."

Van den Brink says the country is missing out on massive growth opportunities by not using agriculture or land reform to its full potential.

"Countries with more equal land distribution grow faster, permanently," he said. - Sapa-AFP

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home