Wednesday, December 26, 2007

(M&G) Slow land reform leads to land grabs

Slow land reform leads to land grabs
Johannesburg, South Africa
05 July 2007 04:41

Hundreds of squatters invaded private land near Pietermaritzburg last week and began to erect makeshift homes. This is the type of image an investor-friendly country like South Africa is keen to avoid. It is the latest in a series of not-always-reported land invasions since democracy in 1994, coincides with a report on South Africa by 26 African Union members chiding the government over its slow progress on land reform.

It also comes just a week after African National Congress (ANC) members at the party's policy conference recommended more aggressive measures to accelerate the redistribution of land, including expropriations and regulation of foreign ownership.

Thirteen years after the ANC came to power promising to right the wrongs of colonialism and apartheid by returning lands seized by white settlers, the snail's pace of delivery is prompting poor black communities to fend for themselves through land grabs.

Despite representing only 9,6% of the population, white people in South Africa still own more than 80% of farm land, and black farmworkers still live in a situation of quasi-serfdom.

"We're sitting on a [time] bomb and we cannot allow that to go off," Deputy Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Dirk du Toit told a media briefing earlier this year.


The government has promised to put 30% of white-owned farm land -- 25-million hectares -- in black hands by 2014, but reaching that target would require jacking up the pace of land reform tenfold, from an average 300 000ha a year since 1994 to three million hectares each year.

Given the scale of the task facing it, the government this year for the first time abandoned the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle in carrying out its first expropriation.

The expropriation of the land, which was the subject of a claim under the restitution scheme -- for people dispossessed of their land since 1913 -- came after stalled price negotiations between the owners and the state.

Mention expropriations in South Africa and people immediately think of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe where thousands of white farmers were ousted since 2000 -- mostly with paltry or no compensation.

While South Africa has always rubbished any comparisons with Zimbabwe, more expropriations of white-owned
farms are on the cards.

The government is also talking about regulating foreign ownership of land, blaming foreigners -- who, it claims, hold 3% of the land -- for shoving up property prices.


In the meantime, however, it is black farmworkers who are being ejected from farms in large numbers. The mechanisation of agriculture means farmers no longer require the services of hundreds of thousands of live-in farm workers. Joblessness usually spells homelessness for an entire family.

A report commissioned by land rights NGO Nkuzi Development Association found that farm workers are being turfed off the land quicker than the state can give them their own plot: between 1994 and July 2005, an estimated 199 611 households were evicted, compared with the 164 185 households that benefited from land reform.

"We're not near to getting this really solved," Du Toit said during a media tour in the Western Cape in March to quell criticism of land reform by showcasing what the ministry calls "successful" projects.

An estimated 95% of projects go belly up, Professor Ben Cousins, land-reform specialist at the University of the Western Cape, said in a radio interview, in which he accused the state of subjugating sustainability to speed.

Restrictions on the subdivision of land mean that new black owners, instead of each receiving a portion of a commercial farm to call their own, are forced into communal ownership schemes that are riven by infighting and freeloaders.

The other criticism usually levelled at land reform is that many of the beneficiaries have little farm-management experience and that some, plucked from townships, have no farm experience whatsoever.

Some white farmers are electing to stay on as mentors, like the Keller brothers who sold their 83ha farm outside Oudtshoorn in the Western Cape to their farm workers. The Kellers have retained a majority stake in the business while training the new owners in what is being hailed as a model form of cooperation between black and white.

But after just one year the Kellers say the new owners, who still look on the previous owners as their bosses, are not "responsible enough" and that they may never have full ownership of the business. -- Sapa-dpa

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