GLW: Echoes of Zim in SOUTH AFRICA -- Land reform blocked

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at
Tue May 23 17:52:52 MDT 2000

The following article appears in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (,
Australia's radical newspaper.


SOUTH AFRICA: Land reform blocked


[Andile Mngxitama is the land rights coordinator for the National
Land Committee.]

JOHANNESBURG -- The Zimbabwean land crisis presents South African
activists with an opportunity to honestly review their country's
land reform program to date.

South Africa's post-apartheid land reform program was delivered
to us by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund
(IMF). The general prognosis is that our land reform is in a bad
shape and the trends are worrying.

Any comparison between Zimbabwe and South Africa has to be
sensitive to some fundamental differences. The Zimbabwean war of
liberation (1965-1979) was inspired by the land question. The
South African struggle was underlined by urban demands, mostly
couched in terms of ``freedom''. But in both countries, the
overwhelming majority are land hungry as a result of settler
colonial conquest.

South Africa does not have liberation war veterans in the
Zimbabwean sense, but it has a rural landless populace which is
mobilised around the pace and direction of land reform. South
Africa's land politics are also shaped by the white land-owners'
class violence against farm workers and labour tenants.

Zimbabwe obtained its liberation via the Lancaster House
agreement [negotiated between Britain and the liberation
movement]. South Africa's democracy was ushered in through the
historic compromises made between the former apartheid rulers and
the African National Congress (ANC).

In both cases, the resolution of the land question was highly
circumscribed. The former oppressors demanded guarantees that the
land would not be arbitrarily taken [i.e., without permission of
the land owner and without compensation based on market prices --
the so-called willing buyer, willing seller principle], in
exchange for relinquishing political power. In both cases, they
were granted their wishes.

Willing buyer, willing seller

Two main assumptions informed the representatives of the
oppressed in the negotiations. First, that there would be enough
funds to purchase land to satisfy the legitimate land hunger of
the landless. Second, that those who held the land would
willingly place land on the market for land reform as a sign of

With the benefit of hindsight, we know both assumptions were
flawed. The clauses on land meant that it was going to be
practically impossible to implement radical and widespread land

The tasks of the South African democratic order were interpreted
differently by the rural oppressed. For those who lived under
conditions of semi-slavery on white-owned farms, democracy meant
that their misery should end. For those who remember the pain and
indignation of apartheid's forced removals, it meant redress for
their ordeal.

In recognition of such expectations, the ANC's 1994 pre-election
manifesto, the Reconstruction and Development Program, promised
to redistribute 30% of agricultural land in its first five years
in government. The reality is that less than 2% has been
redistributed in that period, and even what has been is not prime
agricultural land.

The South African land reform program has three legs: the
restitution of land rights, land redistribution and recognition
of tenure for farm dwellers.

Restitution seeks to address the legacy of forced removals after
1913 by returning the land to the communities dispossessed. In
South Africa, land ownership remains much as it did in the final
years of apartheid -- the white population (14% of the
population) owns around 85%.

For the redistribution of land to the landless, the main leg of
the land reform program, the state makes funds available to
purchase land on the open market in line with the principle of
``willing buyer, willing seller''. Until now, the program has
operated under the same conditions as the housing grant
[favouring the those with low incomes].

There are proposals on the table to shift the focus of the
program to make it an instrument for creating a black commercial
farming class. The implications of the shift are dire as it is
the poor that stand to lose in the change.

Tenure reform deals with land rights of people in communal areas,
farm workers and labour tenants. [Labour tenants are impoverished
communities which exchange their labour for the use of land on
white-owned farms. In many cases the labour tenants have lived on
the land in question all their lives, as did their ancestors for
several generations and who are buried there. They know no other
way of life and having been denied education opportunities by the
apartheid regime, are unable to compete for work elsewhere.]

To date, legislation has been developed to deal with procedures
for evictions of farm workers (the Extension of Security of
Tenure Act) and for regulating relations between labour tenants
and owners (the Labour Tenants Act). Unlike the ESTA, the LTA
gives stronger land rights. The trouble with the LTA is that it
is a too complicated and expensive as a mechanism.

Progress stalled

Under the land restitution program, of 63,455 claims lodged since
1994, only 4925 have been settled. The majority of settlements
are cash payments, with just 162 involving restoration of land.
Commentators estimate that it could take between 18 and 63 years
to deal with claims load.

Some provinces have settled as few as two claims between 1994 and
February. Some communities have not heard a word from the
restitution commission since they lodged claims in 1994.
Communities have written letters to the minister of land affairs
and even the president with no success.

As if that is not enough, the Department of Land Affairs has
introduced a policy of paying flat-rate compensation to urban
claimants. This new approach is calculated to save the state
money but will cost victims of apartheid's forced removals
dearly. The flat rates paid to households of victims of forced
removals range between R40,000 (former residents of Sophiatown
near Johannesburg), to R3500 (the value of serviced site in the

What is even more baffling, the government has not recommended
that present land owners be compensated at a flat rate if their
land is redistributed. This benefits those who were advantaged by
apartheid yet again. For instance four farmers in North West
Province will walk away with R15 million in compensation.

In terms of land redistribution, the minister placed a moratorium
on the project six months ago. Some estimates indicate that at
least R17 billion is needed (because of ``willing seller, willing
buyer'') to satisfy South Africa's land hunger. The Department of
Land Affairs has now jettisoned any pretensions that is will
satisfy the land hunger of the poorest in favour of concentrating
on creating a black commercial farming class.

In terms of labour tenants and farm workers, the available
statistics show that only 17 land projects have been designated
for labour tenants, and farm workers have got nothing! What
complicates matters further is that farm owners are continuing to
evict farm dwellers. The landless have not had access to legal
aid because the Legal Aid Board is in financial crisis. This
situation has left farm dwellers vulnerable to all sorts of human
rights violations.

The picture is made even worse by the meagre resources made
available for land reform. The total budget for land reform is
less that 1% of the national budget and only a tiny fraction
South Africa's 1.1 million civil servants are involved in
implementing land reform.

Under these circumstances, it is very difficult not to conclude
that the ANC government does not have the political will to deal
effectively with the land question. South African land activists
need to liberate the land reform program. Land reform has to be
politically driven instead of being restricted by the current
judicial approach.

What can be done?

What can be done to avoid a crisis and conflict-ridden land
redistribution process?

First, white land holders will have to show that they are
committed to reconciliation and change. They must recognise that
the land they hold was taken from Africans by force.

In concrete terms, farmers and other land-owners could donate
substantial pieces of land to landless people without expecting
compensation. For this route to materialise, we need a
renaissance of the mind of the white farmers. They need to accept
that black farm dwellers are not part of their property, but
people with a real need for land.

The other option is for the South African government to get rid
of the ``willing buyer, willing seller'' policy. This may require
amending the constitution, but the state will have to show that
it is serious about land redistribution to the poor.

This option will require a political will to act in the interests
of the poorest South Africans and to re-prioritise land reform.
Clear time frames and the expected number of beneficiaries will
have to be set. Such a new approach would recognise that land has
many important meanings for African people which cannot be
narrowed down to economics alone.



More information about the Marxism mailing list