Land reform: It's about more than just land

2009-09-21 00:00

The experience of a project near Ladysmith has proved that the focus should fall as much on rural development as it does on land transfers, writes JULIA DENNY-DIMITRIOU.

ONE of the issues on the post-1994 agenda that catches the media spotlight from time to time is land reform. Successful land reform is seen as essential to create employment in rural areas, increase productivity and redress the injustices of the past. Too often media coverage features yet another difficulty with what farmer and land reform consultant Roland Henderson called “this nasty, thorny problem”. So, are there any success stories and is successful land reform possible?

The answer to both questions is “Yes,” says Henderson, and the members of Mphuzanyoni Communal Property Association (CPA) in the Besters district of Ladysmith agree with him.

Henderson said: “The objective of land redistribution used to be land transfer. The basis that we worked from was that land reform was about transferring land to black ownership and establishing commercial farming on it. Those assumptions have proved to be incorrect.

“From our experience in the Qedusizi/Besters project, we have realised that the objective of land reform should be rural development, not just land transfer. Equally, rural development is a lot more than just land transfer.”

Mphuzanyoni is one of 14 CPAs created in the Besters beef farming district that stretches west from Ladysmith to Van Reenen, covering an area of about 60 000 hectares. The Besters Farming Association is an old, established association that enjoys a high level of cohesion and co-operation. This was an important ingredient in the way the farmers of the area responded in 2000, when many of the farm dwellers on their land laid claims to have their rights as labour tenants recognised. This was made possible by the Labour Tenant Act of 1996 and the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997. Together with the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994, these two pieces of legislation form part of the government’s land reform strategy.

“The farmers association acted as a whole to settle the issue amicably for the long term. That was our main objective,” said Henderson, who was chairman of the body at the time. “Whether we were landowners or tenants, the economic pressures on us were the same and we all wanted the same thing: a better life for ourselves and our families,” Henderson said.

He explained that at the time, there was “a dearth of local information or guidelines on how to set about a land reform programme”. So began a lengthy process of consultations involving farmers, farm ­dwellers, the Department of Agriculture and Land Affairs, and the Emnambithi-Ladysmith Municipality. “We held more than 50 meetings to explore people’s understanding and needs. The desire to own land was central. In the process, we also had to address many issues, grievances and conflicts left over from the past.”

What eventually resulted in 2003 was the Qedusizi/Besters cluster project, a “bottom-up area-based land reform and enterprise development programme” that has become a model for the whole country and led to the practice of area-based land reform programmes.

The project saw the creation of a Section 21 company with an elected board of directors that oversaw the purchase and transfer of 14 farms to 14 CPAs. This was funded by an LRAD grant (Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development) of R24,4 million. The project involves 199 muzis or extended family households representing 993 adult beneficiaries, in total some 2 500 people. Each farm has an average of 14 muzis organised into CPAs with their own constitution and bylaws. Each was given a communally owned commercial beef herd. Each CPA allocated grazing rights to its members and individual household plots. The CPAs made their first profit from selling stock in 2007.

The Besters score card (see box) indicates that the success of the project has been mixed. Henderson explained: “Had we thought to go looking when we set out, we would have found relevant information from other countries like China and Brazil that would have told us that the model we used was flawed. Unfortunately we didn’t.

“Land reform is actually about everything else other than land. Land redistribution should unlock wealth for farm dwellers, but land does not equal wealth. Productive land does. Land is no good to anyone if you are in a social mess.

“We failed to recognise that very few farm dwellers aspired to be successful commercial farmers. What has transpired is that they have a whole range of aspirations. We also learnt that you cannot lump together a whole host of different people with a whole host of different aspirations into one CPA and expect it to succeed.

“We have also realised that the measure of success for land reform is relative — you cannot measure it in terms of commercial farming. Small-scale farming can also be viable. If we had started 10 years ago with the objective of rural development instead of land transfer, we would be in a much better position than we are now.

“We will be changing some of the CPA structures to forms that better suit members’ needs, such as sub-division of household settlement areas, trusts that recognise individual ownership, normal commercial entities, which will all be based on the principle of sub-dividing land based on communities’ individual aspirations.”

The lessons learnt at Qedusizi/Besters have been applied all over the country to land reform programmes (see box).

“We will need to do an assessment in five to 10 years time. In the meantime, we know that we can create a successful land redistribution process if we create a model that caters for the aspirations of all the participants,” Henderson said.

Some lessons from QeDuSizi/Besters

• Mind shift — Sipho Dlamini of the KZN Provincial Land Reform Office in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform said a critical need was to help farm dwellers make the “paradigm shift” from workers to land and stockowners, from hired wage earners to businessmen.

• Trust and leadership — as identified by Mphizanyoni CPA, the main pre- condition for a successful bottom-up area-based approach was trust between and strong and capable leadership among parties.

• Choice of options — beneficiaries should take the lead in a participatory process to analyse and choose an enterprise form and its development.

• Sufficient land is necessary — Besters farmers made sufficient land available to allow a willing-buyer- willing-seller principle to operate.

• Involve beneficiaries in decision making — involving farm dwellers in all decision making was essential. Allowing them to meet separately without the state or mentors present allowed formulation of demands and proposals, and creation of innovative solutions.

• Capacity development — this should combine training, specialised training and learning by doing. Mentors, in this case two commercial farmers, played a key role. Develop guidelines to encourage mentors to act as facilitators and helpers rather than managers and initiators.

• Women and youth — the form and development of enterprises should focus on economic opportunities for women and young people.

• Monitoring and evaluation — no formal systems were set up to do this, which made it difficult to evaluate processes, conflicts and their resolution, enterprises and the project as a whole. A baseline survey needs to be conducted to provide information for future comparisons.

Mphuzanyoni CPA

BETWEEN them, the 24 households that make up this association collectively own 304 head of Bonsmara beef cattle. Each family also owns between 20 and 40 head of stock privately. The cattle graze on 2 200 hectares of land, also owned collectively. The CPA employs two of its members as full-time stockmen to take care of the cattle.

In addition to purchasing stock, the LRAD grant facilitated the development of infrastructure like boreholes and piped water to settlements, farm implements and “institutional support” including the services of two mentors for two years.

Costs like vet fees, medication, dip and lick for supplementary feeding in winter are borne by the CPA, into which any profits from the sale of stock also go. The association recently purchased a new bull for breeding at a cost of almost R23 000, testament to the relative health of the association’s finances.

The Witness talked to the chairman of the Mphuzanyoni CPA, July Hlatshwayo, and three CPA members: Lebohang Nkiane, Jabulani Tshabalala and Samson Mthembu, all experienced stockmen. They all agreed that life had improved for them since the introduction of the CPA.

“Now we are free agents, not someone else’s property. Now, when we point at a cow, we are pointing at what is our own. We are no longer looking after someone else’s stock but our own. The white farmers used to limit the number of cattle we could own and that no longer happens.”

They commented that the main challenge of the change was the uncertainty about what would happen: “We decided to try it anyway. Once we started we realised it was a good thing. The government purchased 166 cattle for us and now our herd has multiplied.”

A priority for the success of such a venture, they said, was “to be able to eat from one bowl. Having trust and good communication among the members is important, especially trusting the elected committee. A CPA is like a soccer team. If one member lags behind, the whole team suffers. People have to be committed to working hard together as a team, and working with the white farmers too.”

The group said their dream for the future was to purchase more stock and explore other profit-making ventures like cultivating grass for feed and growing crops. “We want to tell the government not to stop here with us, but to help other people in other areas too.”

Qudesizi/Besters score card

Successful: 5. Stalled: 7. Agricultural deterioration: 2. Total: 14

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