Land Reform in South Africa: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Article excerpt

It is time for a clear perspective on the emotive issue of land reform in South Africa. Only if we cut through the disinformation, bad analysis and political opportunism can we approach consensus and make the progress we need to make.

Just in the last few weeks, the waters were again muddied by the Afrikanerbond's grossly insensitive, offensive and ahistorical analysis of land ownership and reform, former president Thabo Mbeki's condonation of violent land grabs in Zimbabwe, and ANC MP and traditional chief Mandla Mandela's renewed threats that commercial farms would be expropriated.

Mbeki's statement came as a surprise. Speaking at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute at Unisa on August 23, Mbeki said he had engaged Robert Mugabe years ago to discourage the way land was redistributed in Zimbabwe. And then Mbeki added: "But fortunately the Zimbabweans didn't listen to us, they went ahead."

If the ANC and the government could for once paint a true, clear picture of agrarian reform and land redistribution, a lot of the heat around the issue would dissipate and we could proceed sensibly and with better focus.

Nineteen years after liberation, the 1913 figures of 87 percent land in white hands and 13 percent in black hands are still bandied about. This is completely wrong.

The total surface area of South Africa is 122 081 300 hectares. Cities, towns and municipal commonage make up 8 percent of that - the eight metropolitan areas account for just 2 percent of the land but are home to 37 percent of the total population. Another 10 percent is owned by national or provincial departments: conservation areas, military, police and prisons, schools, hospitals, etc. Communal land represents 15 percent.

Which leaves 67 percent to privately owned commercial farmland, until 1994 owned almost exclusively by whites. This has since changed substantially. This figure already includes farms transferred to black owners or groups through the redistribution and restitution programmes. Minister Gugile Nkwinti told Parliament early in 2013 that 4 813 farms had been transferred to new black owners between 1994 and January 2013. This translates into 4 123 million hectares benefiting 231 000 people.

An unknown but probably substantial number of commercial farms have also been bought privately by black farmers and black-owned companies, like those associated with Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale. Giving land to new black farmers has been a painfully slow process, but land restitution, the handing back of land to people who had previously been forcibly removed, has progressed well. …