Four land redistribution scenarios for South Africa – all of which are messy

Non-profit land-redistribution organisation Vumelana has revealed the four options President Zuma and the ANC are most likely to take in redistributing land to black South Africans by 2033 – and all of them are messy.

The scenarios were developed by a roundtable of 40 people who approach land reform from widely differing perspectives: policy makers and administrators, traditional leaders, communal property institution leaders, activists, business people, academics and consultants.

In total, the team’s discussions took into account the views of over 100 people, and resulted in four possible scenarios in which land redistribution could take place – and what the consequences would be for the country in the year 2030.


Scenario 1 – Connection and Capture

Scenario 1 follows land reform being captured by politically-connected interest groups who benefit at the expense of ordinary people.

In this case, South Africa’s wealthy and politically-connected would exploit the system of land redistribution for their own benefit. The “winners” are those who currently hold power in South Africa’s key business and political circles while the “losers” will be the ordinary people outside these networks of patronage.

There is very little tenure security for rural households and women remain particularly disadvantaged.

In this scenario:

  • Following immense political pressure, the ANC turns to traditional leaders to gain more control of land in communal areas.
  • Political connections and weak institutions continue to encourage self-serving behaviour.
  • The land is used for the benefit of the few.
  • South Africa is polarised along ethnic lines.

Scenario 2 – Market power and Concentration

In scenario 2 land reform changes the racial profile of concentrated commercial farming without broadening ownership to small farmers and local communities.

In effect it would only achieve half of the ANC’s redistribution goal and could arguably worsen the land situation in the country as the land is unlikely to be redistributed again to those in need as the gap in inequality increases.

In this scenario:

  • Fiscal constraints and rising urban pressure frustrate attempts to accelerate land reform.
  • Private initiatives look like a way out for the government.
  • The government moves to expand the role of the private sector in land reform.
  • Cities take centre stage and the focus on land reform declines.

Scenario 3 – Occupation and Confiscation

In scenario 3, deepening hardship and hunger drive a countrywide campaign of illegal occupation and invasion, eventually leading to confiscation without compensation.

This scenario posits a state of lawlessness as desperate South Africans take land illegally and unlawfully. However it is also likely to be the most damaging to the ANC as it does not address the actual issues of inequality and would undermine further efforts to do so.

In this scenario:

  • Action is driven by landless people and the idea that land is a symbol of dispossession under colonialism and apartheid.
  • Inaction by leaders across sectors heightens the frustration of the poor.
  • Following its 2022 conference, the ruling party sides with opposition parties to amend the Constitution to allow for the illegal occupation.

Scenario 4 – Hard bargaining and Compromise

Business agreement

Scenario 4  entails an inclusive approach to land reform with a pro-poor orientation.

This will require policy makers create an “enabling” environment in which a wide range of actors can contribute to land reform.

Hard talk and compromises by government, small-scale farmers, land reform beneficiaries, civil society organisations and financing partners should open the way for a collaborative approach.

In this scenario:

  • Policy makers create an enabling environment in which a wide range of actors can contribute to land reform.
  • The context eases.
  • Hard bargaining and compromises unclutter the policy agenda.
  • New relationships start to bear fruit, but operating conditions remain difficult.

The majority of participants at the roundtable supported the view that the fourth scenario presents a plausible solution to addressing some of the current land reform challenges.

“Scenario 4 presents an ideal approach,” said Annelize Crosby, AgriSA’s legal and policy advisor.

“However, there is still need for engagement on it. The hard bargaining and compromise process leaves the country with no choice but to engage.

“To say we are going to expropriate 70% of land within a year or two is extremely disruptive – and if it happens within the next two years, it will be very disruptive indeed.”


Read: ANC mulls “use it or lose it” land policy

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