Mandela and Land Redistribution

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Dec 12 23:28:26 GMT 2013

December 5, 2013 1:49 pm

South Africa’s black farmers struggle with land reform
By Andrew England in Committees Drift, Eastern Cape
Mthimkhulu inspects his herd of cattle at his farm in Senekal

A black farmer inspects his cattle on land formerly owned by a white farmer

Elliot Nkompo discusses the trials and 
tribulations of farming in 
Africa after attending to a weak cow struggling to stand after calving.

As someone with three decades’ experience as a 
farmworker he is no stranger to the challenges 
farming brings. Yet, four years after making the 
transition from worker to land owner as the 
beneficiary of a land reform programme pushed by 
the ruling 
National Congress, he is struggling to make ends meet.

The reform – under which the state has acquired 
white-owned land for blacks – is intended to 
address huge imbalances in land ownership, the 
legacy of colonial and apartheid policies. But it 
is a complex and emotive issue that is set to be 
a hot topic as campaigning picks up ahead of next year’s elections.

And with the country approaching the 20-year 
anniversary of the end of white minority rule, 
black and white farmers alike say the programme 
has failed to produce the desired results.

While the ANC argues that the pace of reform has 
been too slow, white farmers complain about 
uncertainty and political pressure and many new 
black farmers, like Mr Nkompo, lack resources and 
struggle to make a success of their land.

Acquiring his own farm was the realisation of a 
once impossible dream for Mr Nkompo after a 
lifetime toiling for a white farmer. But his sick 
cow’s battle to stand is symbolic of his own 
travails as he complains that the support he 
expected from the government to help develop the land has not materialised.

“When we sought the land we knew it was not going 
to be easy, but we have been shocked,” he says.

The government has acknowledged problems with the 
reform, but wants to accelerate the process and 
plans to dispense with its “willing buyer, 
willing seller” policy under which white-owned 
land can only be procured if the owner agrees to sell.

Instead, it says it will look to expropriate land 
at “fair value” prices set by an Office of the 
Valuer-General. The ANC has also said it wants to 
reopen a land claims process, closed 15 years 
ago, under which communities or individuals can 
lay claim to land they say was dispossessed.

Both are politically sensitive issues that have 
taken on additional resonance as this year has 
marked the centenary of the colonial 1913 Natives 
Land Act that limited African land ownership to just 7 per cent of the country.
What we seem to get wrong is to focus on land 
transfer and not focus on people. Had they 
focused on people they would make the land reform 
programme suit people and the peculiarities of agriculture

- Mohammad Karaan, Stellenbosch University

Rural regions tend to be among the most racially 
unreconstructed areas in post-apartheid 
Africa, with most blacks living in abject 
poverty. The ANC had set the goal of 
redistributing 30 per cent of farm land to black 
farmers by the end of next year but this target will not be met.

“What we seem to get wrong is to focus on land 
transfer and not focus on people,” says Mohammad 
Karaan, dean of agriculture at Stellenbosch 
University. “Had they focused on people they 
would make the land reform programme suit people 
and the peculiarities of agriculture.”

The issue is further complicated because a land 
audit is still being completed, meaning exactly 
who owns what in terms of race and nationality is not clear.

President Jacob Zuma has previously said 80 per 
cent of agricultural land is in the hands of 
about 50,000 white farmers and agri-businesses. 
The government estimates that reaching the 30 per 
cent target would require transferring 24.5m 
hectares out of the 82m hectares of agricultural land in white hands.

About 6m hectares have been transferred to 
blacks, including 4,800 farms, since the ANC took 
power in 1994. But experts warn that simply 
transferring land without effective support doesn’t work.

Lali Naidoo, director of the East Cape 
Agricultural Research Project, a non-governmental 
organisation that supports black farmers, says 
dispensing with the willing seller policy may 
make land more available. But she adds: “It’s not 
going to sort the problem of use, support and agricultural production.”

Many of the new black farmers come from poor 
backgrounds and lack the resources to ensure their land is productive.
The government is using land as a solution to the 
problem, but land in itself is not. It has to be 
worked effectively to be a solution

- Brent McNamara, beef farmer

Mr Nkompo, his wife and three other couples took 
over 216 hectares when a white farmer retired, 
with each individual receiving a grant of 
R101,000 from the government. Pooling their 
resources, they paid R570,000 for the land and 
another R157,000 for 13 cattle and a pick-up 
truck. They say they never received the remaining R80,000.

The result is they have land but no capital to 
invest in the harsh semi-arid landscape dotted 
with yellow-flowered cacti. Instead they hope the 
government will come to their aid with irrigation systems and other assistance.

“If we were to get these things I do not see what 
will get in our way of success because we know 
about farming,” Mr Nkompo says. Since 2010, the 
department of rural development and land reform 
has adopted polices intended to put more emphasis 
on developing the capacity of farmers.

But the department’s own capacity is questioned, 
and Mr Nkompo has not yet reaped any benefits. 
His small, basic farmhouse has neither 
electricity nor running water. Yet at a 
neighbouring farm, huge irrigation pivots spray 
water over lush pasture at a commercial dairy operation.

The contrast could not be starker and white 
farmers – often characterised as being resistant 
to reform – say the smaller black farms are 
simply not viable given the harsh terrain.

Brent McNamara, a beef farmer with 900 hectares, 
insists commercial farmers are not against 
reform, but argues it should not be forced in a 
manner that creates uncertainty and hits 
agricultural production. He alludes to Zimbabwe’s 
experience, where the seizure of white-owned 
farms triggered a collapse in agriculture.

Few expect South Africa to follow that path but 
solving the land question will continue to be a 
colossal task laced with highly charged emotions.

“There’s a big difference between us and 
Zimbabwe, but the problem is the political 
rhetoric can influence investment,” Mr McNamara 
says. “The government is using land as a solution 
to the problem, but land in itself is not. It has 
to be worked effectively to be a solution.”



He avoided Zimbabwe's mistake. Can it last?

By <>Matt Purple – 12.11.13

When he was elected president of South Africa in 
1994, Nelson Mandela’s country was a sizzling 
stovetop of grievances and ideologies, a place 
where the vestiges of Apartheid mixed with newer 
black nationalist and Marxist resentments. The 
pressures Mandela faced were enormous.

One of them was to follow the example of Robert 
Mugabe, president of nearby Zimbabwe. A gapingly 
disproportionate amount of land in both Zimbabwe 
and South Africa was owned by the white minority. 
Mugabe was in the process of implementing a 
sweeping, coercive land reform plan that would 
redistribute land en masse, and without 
compensation, from whites to black farmers. This 
ultimately hyper-inflated his currency and annihilated the Rhodesian economy.

South Africa’s land reform program, steered by 
Mandela, was far more moderate and gradual. It 
centered on a “willing buyer/willing seller” 
policy­a “market reform” as naive conservative 
wonks might put it today­that allowed white 
landowners to sell their land voluntarily. The 
observed in 1998 that the initiative “contrasts 
sharply” with Mugabe’s jackbooted plans, while 
Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, later said 
willing buyer/willing seller was a necessary 
compromise “to address the concerns of the 
minority.” The goal was to transfer 30 percent of 
South African land from whites to blacks by 2014.

Today less than 10 percent of the land has been 
redistributed and the program is widely 
recognized as a debacle. Both wheels on the land 
reform conveyor belt failed to spin. On the 
seller end, the government’s collection of land 
has been sluggish and tainted by accusations that 
landowners weren’t sufficiently compensated for 
their property. Additionally, many of those who 
had claims settled for cash settlements rather than land itself.

But the real kinks came on the buyer end from 
that classic problem that’s bedeviled 
redistributionists throughout history: The new 
landowners lack the skills needed to cultivate 
their fields. About 90 percent of the 
government’s redistributed farms had failed as of 
2010. One black farmer, who used to drive a 
tractor for a white farmer named Engelbrecht, put 
it bluntly to 
Los Angeles 
“I thought I'd be much better off. But I think it 
was better with Mr. Engelbrecht. We lived high with Mr. Engelbrecht.”

Gugile Nkwinti, the land reform minister, summed 
things up this way: “The government didn’t have a 
strategy to ensure that the land was productive.”

The program’s inertia is making many reformers 
throughout the country impatient. A new 
radicalism is bubbling on the South African 
stove, one that’s looking to Robert Mugabe and 
his model of punitive land confiscation. Angile 
Lugisa, the former deputy president of the 
African National Congress’s Youth League, 
Mugabe earlier this year and announced, “We are 
saying in South Africa and the whole of Africa, 
we should emulate Zimbabwe.” When Land Reform 
Minister Nkwinti was accused of employing 
Mugabe-esque tactics to ignite anger before an 
responded: “Mugabe is reversing what the British 
did to the people of Zimbabwe. It's an honor.” 
President Jacob Zuma has since announced that the 
government will ax the willing buyer/willing 
seller system in favor of a predetermined “just 
and equitable” compensation and a limit on how much land individuals can own.

Some of this is podium-thumping. There is a wide 
gash of black resentment in Africa that’s been 
exploited by savvy politicians, most notably the 
populist Economic Freedom Fighters, whose leader, 
Julius Malema, 
pledged to drive whites off their land. But this 
rhetoric can have very real consequences. Since 
Apartheid was abolished, thousands of South 
African farmers have been murdered, usually white 
victims at the hands of black assailants. The 
of these killings spiked 25 percent between 2002 
and 2007, with agriculture workers now twice as 
likely to be murdered as other South African 
citizens. And while the lion’s share of the 
murders involve robberies rather than overt 
politics, the rhetoric of militants like Malema 
is certainly exacerbating a dark problem.

South African politics is soaked in 
redistribution, all the way through to its 
founding document. The South African constitution 
is a progressive fruit basket of positive rights, 
and counts 
its admirers Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It 
explicitly requires the government to take 
measures that “enable citizens to gain access to 
land on an equitable basis.” It protects private 
property too, but land reform measures can 
supersede individual rights so long as “the 
limitation [of the right] is reasonable and 
justifiable in an open and democratic society 
based on human dignity, equality, and freedom, 
taking into account all relevant factors.” That 
can mean just about anything to an imaginative 
politician­especially one influenced by resentment and the Mugabe example.

As we honor Nelson Mandela, let’s remember his 
prudence on land reform: resisting Mugabe's 
allure and striving for something that was 
careful and relatively market-based. But let’s 
also acknowledge the portents in South Africa 
today: violence, racism, radicalism, with the 
specters of both Apartheid and a failed redistribution scheme looming overhead.

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