Land reform has failed in South Africa

LAND reform in South Africa is still having major problems. No positive outcome seems possible in the foreseeable future. Government is unhappy about the situation, new (mostly black) farmers are dissatisfied, and commercial farmers try to continue “in a state of constant stress and uncertainty”. This is the view of Dr Jan du Plessis in the latest issue of Intersearch, a Pretoria-based think-tank publication.

Dr du Pless’s comments coincide with renewed pressure by the ANC Youth League on the government to speed up not only the transfer of rural land to Africans, but also to give them access to urban properties. ANCYL president, Julius Malema,  said recently: “We no longer want townships and rural areas.

We want our people to live as equals. They should have access to land anywhere, “even if it is in the beachfront of Cape Town. Let’s use this land for the benefit of our people and let’s not sell it to the foreigners.”

In 2001, a “New Strategic Plan for Agriculture” was signed between the government and the farmers’ organisation, Agri-SA. Very little, if any, progress has been made. The intention was to ensure that 30% of all agricultural land would be in the hands of black farmers by 2014. However, Agri-SA stated recently that only 5% has been acquired, and an incredible 90% of land reform projects have failed. The government has been unable to support new farmers and owes some 389 new landowners about R3,6 billion.

Dr du Plessis contends that “functional decay of governing capabilities” has changed the “farming environment” and that very few of the core strategies in the 2001 plan have materialised. Instead of more land being transferred to new black farmers, “productive farming has become increasingly difficult. The government focused on land transfer, but completely neglected the enabling strategy of ‘knowledge and innovation’.”

Dr du Plessis comments: “The failed expectations regarding land reform by 2010 is a result of misdirected expectations and wrong assumptions — largely due to the application of a political ideology that has become outdated. The central issue was not  ‘farming’  but ‘land transfer’; as a result, the ‘farming component’ basically collapsed from day one”.

Over the decade, government and commercial farming “tolerated” each other in the hope that one would eventually accept the other’s position. However, neither of them was willing to state in public that they were not talking about the same thing and that “land reform” in its present form was unworkable.

Dr du Plessis says outright that “land transfer” has not been a success and no solution seems to be in sight. However, he believes that some form of land transfer is necessary. “If correctly applied, property rights enhance a form of social stability and economic development. It is not so much about the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. In its latest Green Paper, government proposed a review of landownership in South Africa. Commercial farmers with too much land may be requested to share it with black farmers”.

So, says Dr du Plessis, the issue at stake is not just land, but “commercial land”. Hectares of land by themselves do not seem to produce expected results. “Land in itself cannot produce anything. It may have a certain potential if expertise and skills are introduced and the land is turned into a productive unit where value is added to the land. The key to the creation of ‘commercial land’ is the introduction of human capital  —  skills and expertise!

“Over the past decade, government pursued the transfer of land without the pre-condition of expertise and skills. Government in itself did not have the human capital to support the new farmers and the (new) farmers themselves did not have enough expertise and skills to continue with ‘commercial farming’ on their newly acquired farms.”

Tension between government, commercial farmers and new farmers was basically inevitable, as government focused on “land” and commercial farmers emphasised the requirements for “farming”. Dr du Plessis explains that “farming” can be described as the process where “land” is transformed into a commercial enterprise. However, the 2001 key strategies had either been neglected or just sidelined.

“In this regard the decay of good governance is certainly one of the most important and complex to explain. The ANC has maintained its strong political profile over the past decade, but its governing capability has steadily declined. This decay has been largely self-inflicted. The ANC victory over apartheid introduced the final destruction of all former apartheid structures — and therefore also the presence of whites in the public service. The departure of whites from the public service also implied a severe decay of expertise and skills — and basically a total collapse in some departments.

“The ANC won big in political terms, but it has lost great in terms of governing capability. In practical terms it implies that society has been subjected to a loss of good governance and particularly law and order. Commercial agriculture has been trying to convince government that farm murders are steadily creating a no-go scenario in farming and, at the same time, government has been unable to do anything about it.

“This implies that the farming environment over the past decade has not improved; it has, in fact, deteriorated even further — along the border with Lesotho, commercial farmers have lost large tracks of farmland due to smuggling and stealing — there may be ‘land’ available, but ‘farming’ is slowly becoming impossible in certain areas.

“Local government landed itself in a process of functional decay due to cadre deployment, corruption, nepotism and sheer brutal incompetence. Eventually, the process of local mismanagement has started producing some serious consequences for the physical environment.

“In January it was disclosed that only 32 of the 970 sewage plants in the country were still functioning properly.

“In a report to parliament in February it was revealed that ‘when it comes to fresh water’, only 30 municipalities out of 283 have the capability to supply clean water to the inhabitants.

“In July parliament’s water affairs portfolio committee was told that “millions of litres of highly acidic mine water was rising up under Johannesburg and, if left unchecked, could spill out into its streets some 18 months from now. If government does not intervene effectively, up to 70 million litres of acidic mine water could spill into the Vaal River system daily.

In the short term, at least R218 million is needed for the rehabilitation process, although government has only R14 million at its disposal.
“In June 2010 the minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, responded to a question in parliament that ‘only 4% of the budget of the Agricultural Research Council was spent on research, with the rest going to salaries’. Agri-SA, the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front  called it ‘a disaster in the making’. Agri-SA president Johannes Möller said the ‘best practice was for 10% of the national budget to be spent on agriculture, but in South Africa it was 0,5%.’ — about R2,2 billion (should be spent on) agricultural research, but the current budget was less than half of that at R938 million.”

Intersearch can be contacted at:mb@intersearch.co.za

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