Real obstacle to land reform

2008-05-13 00:00

PARLIAMENT has currently before it an expropriation bill which will expand the powers of the state in regard to the land reform process. If enacted, it will enable the government to buy land at below-market prices without the owners’ consent and will also undermine owners’ access to the courts if they object to being expropriated.

It is an entirely inappropriate measure in that the real obstacle to land reform is not the recalcitrance of farmers but the lack of capacity in the Department of Land Affairs (DLA). A third of posts, including senior posts, are vacant while many of its officials know little about the realities of agriculture. In the three years between 2004 and 2007, for instance, state redistribution of formerly white-owned land to new black owners has increased by less than half a percent while at least 50% of government land reform projects have failed to make their beneficiaries better off. Indeed, there have been several notorious debacles in which formerly productive farms have become completely run down.

By contrast, where the private sector has become involved in land reform, the process has been a great deal more successful. Thus the sugar industry’s Inkezo Land Company has had success in redistributing sugar land and supporting emerging farmers, while Sappi’s deal with the Lereko Property Consortium has successfully transferred 25% of Sappi’s forestry assets to broad-based black ownership.

Farmers are not being obstructionist towards land reform. Many want nothing more than to get out, especially when their assets have been effectively frozen by land claims. Arming the government with a bigger stick with which to beat them is not the way forward. The people who require the big stick treatment are in the DLA. Get that department empowered and working with the same degree of efficiency as, for instance, is to be found in Sars, and the land-owning scene could be transformed and the production of food enhanced.

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