While South Africans worry about the slow pace which government takes to fully adopt its land reform progrmme, a report from a new study reveals that state government is keeping reclaimed land for itself and leasing it out to beneficiaries with an option that they buy the property only after 50 years.
Zuma had, in his 2017 state of the Nation’s address (SONA 2017), promised to fast-track the move to return lands to their original owners.
As a direct translation of ANC policy as spelled out in the party’s January 8 statemen, the president outlined the party’s programme for the year which also included speeding up land redistribution.
“It is time to return the land to our people,” he said.
“This year we shall begin to utilize the Expropriation of Land Act to pursue land reform and land redistribution with greater speed and urgency, following the prescripts of our Constitution.”
Zuma was also quoted last week as saying he would want his government to embark on land redistribution without compensation in South Africa.
“We need to take bold steps that will transform our economy, including land ownership, very fast, we are busy amending (laws) to enable faster land reform, including land expropriation without compensation as provided for in the constitution,” Zuma was quoted as saying.
However, a new study published in the academic journal review of African Political Economy noted that President Jacob Zuma’s renewed promises to do away with the “willing seller, willing buyer” principle this year obscured the enormous problems that crop up once the state owns the land.
According to the study, the land reform programme opened the door for “elite capture” with businesses becoming the real winners, while black “beneficiaries” languish without any formal rights to the land.
The new article in the academic journal Review of African Political Economy this month, Hall and colleague Thembela Kepe from the University of Toronto present their findings from a sample of 11 randomly selected land reform projects in the Sarah Baartman district of the Eastern Cape, which they studied over the course of three years.
the Article was written in response to a request from the Eastern Cape provincial legislature.
Most of the black people involved have to settle for “precarious tenure on unsubdivided commercial farms now owned by the state”, claim Hall and Kepe.
South Africa’s land reform policy started out with the aim to fund black peoples’ acquisition of small pieces of land for small-scale farming and settlement. Under president Thabo Mbeki, the emphasis shifted to promoting purchases by bigger black capitalist farmers, the study noted.
From 2006 onwards, the model transformed into the current Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (Plas) and ultimately the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy of 2013.
“The system is now premised on state ownership and long-term leases for beneficiaries. It now takes 50 years of renting state land before beneficiaries get the right to apply to purchase the land,” Hall and Kepe said, adding that none of the beneficiaries of the 11 projects knew about this new policy and had expected to actually own the land at some point.
Further more, Hall and Kepe discovered that there was little wrong with the premise of land redistribution in South Africa, but that the current Plas iteration of land reform under Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti is leading to incredibly perverse outcomes, at least in the projects they studied in the Eastern Cape.
“In some cases, a sizeable community may get a small farm, while in other cases, government buys a large farm with substantial infrastructure and even livestock, and gives it to a single family.”
“The department is buying these farms and leasing them to a friend or whoever happens to be there. If no one makes a go of it, they just tell the unemployed farm workers that they can stay on,” they said.
The worst of the issue is that in the current system, some of the lands have been leased directly to “strategic partners” as the Plas system stipulates that beneficiaries only get recapitalization funding if they have one of these partners, which is usually an existing agribusiness or white farmer, often the previous owner of the land in question.
The two concluded that the result of it all is that the process has effectively been “captured” by big business and governmental parties, defeating the entire purpose of the redistribution the duo concluded.