A new study published in the academic journal review of African Political Economy has found that government is keeping reclaimed land for itself and leasing it to beneficiaries with an option to buy the property only after 50 years.
Last week (24 February), president Jacob Zuma was quoted by Reuters as advocating for land redistribution without compensation in South Africa.
“We need to take bold steps that will transform our economy, including land ownership, very fast,” Zuma was quoted as saying.
“We are busy amending (laws) to enable faster land reform, including land expropriation without compensation as provided for in the constitution.”
Speaking to The City Press, co-authors Ruth Hall and Thembela Kepe argued that years of shifting policies have created a “contorted reform … governed by state officials, consultants and agribusiness strategic partners concerned with surveillance and control of ‘beneficiaries’ in ‘projects’.”
According to Hall and Kepe, South Africa’s land reform policy did originally start 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,” they said.
“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.”
Further still, Hall and Kepe’s found 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.
“What’s worse, none of the beneficiaries had leases either, despite some being on the land for a decade.”
Hall and Kepe therefore found 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.
It gets worse
Hall and Kepe noted that there is potentially an even bigger problem with the current system as some of the land was leased directly to “strategic partners”.
Under the Plas system, beneficiaries only get recapitalisation 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 result is that the process has effectively been “captured” by big business and governmental parties, defeating the entire purpose of the redistribution the duo concluded.