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Speed up redistribution

By unknown | Jul 06, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Hundreds of squatters invaded private land near Pietermaritzburg last week and began to erect makeshift homes.

Hundreds of squatters invaded private land near Pietermaritzburg last week and began to erect makeshift homes.

These are the type of images an investor-friendly country such as South Africa wants to avoid.

The invasion was the latest in a series of land invasions that have not always been reported since the advent of democracy in 1994.

It also coincided with a report on South Africa by 26 African Union members that chides the government for its slow progress on land reform.

It also came just a week after ANC members at a party policy conference recommended more aggressive measures to accelerate the redistribution of land, including expropriations and regulations on foreign ownership.

Thirteen years after the ANC came to power promising to right the wrongs of colonialism and apartheid by returning lands seized by white settlers, the snail's pace of delivery is prompting poor black communities to fend for themselves through land grabs.

Despite representing only 9,6percent of the population, whites in South Africa still own more than 80percent of farm land and black farmworkers still live in a state of quasi-serfdom.

"We're sitting on a time bomb and we cannot allow that to go off," Deputy Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Dirk du Toit told a media briefing earlier this year.

The government has promised to put 30percent of white-owned farmland, about 25 million hectares, in black hands by 2014, but reaching that target would require jacking up the pace of land reform tenfold from an average 300000ha yearly since 1994 to 3 million hectares.

Given the scale of the task facing it, the government this year for the first time abandoned the "willing buyer-willing seller" principle in carrying out its first expropriation.

The expropriation of the land, which was the subject of a claim under the restitution scheme, a scheme for people dispossessed of their land since 1913, came after stalled price negotiations between the owners and the state.

Mention expropriations in South Africa and people immediately think of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, where thousands of white farmers have been ousted since 2000, mostly with paltry or no compensation.

While South Africa has always rubbished any comparisons with Zimbabwe, more expropriations of white-owned farms are on the cards.

The government is also talking about regulating foreign ownership of land, blaming foreigners for shoving up property prices. It claims that foreigners hold 3percent of the land.

In the meantime, black farmworkers are being ejected from farms in large numbers.

The mechanisation of agriculture means farmers no longer require the services of hundreds of thousands of live-in farmworkers. Joblessness usually spells homelessness for entire families.

A report commissioned by land rights NGO Nkuzi Development Association found that farmworkers were being turfed off the land faster than the state could give them their own plots.

Between 1994 and July 2005 an estimated 199611 households were evicted, compared with the 164185 households that benefited from land reform.

"We're not near to getting this really solved," Du Toit said during a media tour in Western Cape in March to quell criticism of land reform by showcasing what the ministry calls "successful" projects.

An estimated 95percent of projects go belly up, said Professor Ben Cousins, a land reform specialist at the University of Western Cape, in a radio interview in which he accused the state of sacrificing sustainability for speed.

Restrictions on the subdivision of land mean that instead of each receiving a portion of a commercial farm to call their own, new black owners are forced into communal ownership schemes that are riven by infighting and freeloaders.

The other criticism usually levelled at land reform is that many of the beneficiaries have little experience in farm management and that some, plucked from townships, have no farm experience whatsoever.

Some white farmers, such as the Keller brothers, who sold their 83ha farm outside Oudsthoorn in Western Cape to their farmworkers, are electing to stay on as mentors.

The Kellers have retained a majority stake in the business while training the new owners in what is being hailed as a model form of cooperation between black and white.

But it will take more than a change of name on the title deeds to erase the legacy of apartheid in rural South Africa.

After just one year, the Kellers say the new owners, who still look on the previous owners as their bosses, are not "responsible enough" and that they might never have full ownership of the business. - Sapa-DPA


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