- President Cyril Ramaphosa says 700 000 hectares of state-owned land will be released for agricultural purposes.
- The aim is to empower black farmers and bring them into the mainstream of the economy.
- Ramaphosa says these farmers should dispel the stereotype that only white farmers are commercially successful.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday committed himself to government's land reform process, saying it aims to strike a balance between social justice and redress, and enhance agricultural output by bringing more black farmers into the mainstream of the economy.
Ramaphosa's comments in his weekly newsletter followed last week's announcement by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development that 896 farms, comprising 700 000 hectares of underutilised or vacant state land, would be released for agricultural purposes.
Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza made the announcement on Wednesday and outlined the process members of the public should follow when applying for available agricultural state land as part of the government's contribution to the land reform programme.
In his newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa said the availability and sustainable use of farmland to grow crops and for animal husbandry was key to South Africa's survival.
"South Africa has vast tracts of land suitable for agricultural production, with 37.9% of our total land area currently being used for commercial agriculture. Like many other countries, our arable land is under threat from land degradation, water scarcity and urban encroachment. We are also losing prime agricultural land through land-use changes," Ramaphosa said.
"Given our history, broadening access to agricultural land for commercial production and subsistence farming is a national priority."
He said although the post-1994 land reform process had resulted in more land being restored to black South Africans, the pernicious effects of the 1913 Natives Land Act continued to be in patterns of farmland ownership.
"By depriving our people of their right to own and work the land on which they depended for sustenance and livelihood, this great injustice effectively 'engineered the poverty of black South Africans'.
"Its aim was to destroy our people's prospects for self-reliance, independence and economic prosperity. At the most fundamental of levels, it destroyed our ability to feed ourselves. With land ownership still concentrated in the hands of the few, and agriculture primary production and value chains mainly owned by white commercial farmers, the effects of our past remain with us today," Ramaphosa said.
He added that transforming patterns of agricultural land ownership was vital, not just to address the historical injustices of the past, but to safeguard the nation's food security.
"Our redistributive vision aims to strike a balance between social justice and redress, and enhancing agricultural output by bringing more black farmers into the mainstream of the economy.
"We have to ensure that land acquired for farming purposes is productively used. To safeguard the allocated state land for farming purposes, the lease is not transferrable. Beneficiaries will sign a lease agreement with the state and pay a rental fee consistent with the land value," Ramaphosa said.
Last week, Didiza said all beneficiaries who had been allocated state land and who had signed lease agreements will be subjected to a compulsory training programme.
"The training programme will include entry level training on the commodity of their choice, basic record keeping, and basic financial management, as well as enterprise development. The lease agreement will not be transferable under any circumstances," she said.
Didiza also said beneficiaries would not be allowed to sublease or sublet a portion of land or the entire farm after signing a leasehold with the state.
"The beneficiary has an obligation to maintain all the infrastructure and upkeep of the land allocated to him or her. The beneficiary will have to manage, maintain and keep the record of assets received from the state," Didiza said.
Ramaphosa added that, as part of this programme, beneficiaries will be trained in financial management and enterprise development.
"Experience has shown that emerging and small-scale farmers often lack the financial skills to exploit market opportunities and integrate with value chains.
"We are prioritising women, youth and persons with disabilities as beneficiaries."
He said broadening access to land and opportunities for farming will support job creation and enterprise development, and improve the market for food, agricultural goods and services.
"The ultimate goal of releasing these land parcels is to transform the agricultural landscape by growing a new generation of farmers.
"They must dispel the stereotype that only white farmers are commercially successful in South Africa, and that black farmers are perpetually 'emerging'.
"In working this land, in turning it to productive use, they will indeed turn swords into ploughshares. They will become the faces of national reconciliation," Ramaphosa said.
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