January 24, 2020

New take on old notion of land reform

Could it be that South Africa already has in place the start of what may be a workable land reform programme? In a written reply by EFF member Leigh-Ann Mathys to the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Farming we learn that more than 200 small-scale farms have been established on state land in all nine provinces, and a good number of them are flourishing.

Okay, it may not be the answer that Mathys wanted to hear. This scheme is based on the leasing of state-owned land to would-be farmers and providing them with grants. Her party demands no less than the handover of land with title deeds – but it does point to what may be possible with sufficient state support.

This land is owned by the Department of Public Works and administered by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). The Minister’s answer makes it clear that this is not state subsidisation, but is rather based on a grant system which falls within the World Trade Organisation’s provisions for developing countries. South Africa is categorised as a developing country, meaning provision of grants to support production is allowed.

There is no 'one size fits all' in land reform.

It is worth noting that of this list of 221 farms currently managed by DAFF, 37% are “doing well” according to the ministerial reply.

Then there are the farms that are struggling due to lack of water, and those awaiting funds to be approved after submitting their business plans, and the 17 prospective farmers in KZN who have no capital or equipment to get on with farming or the 26 farms in Northern Cape where the plots are listed curiously as “land unidentified”.

In the Eastern Cape one farm was taken over in a land invasion and another four are not being farmed because they are awaiting a decision on land claims.

But without these bureaucratic blockages, up to 40% of these state-owned farms that are now being run by emerging farmers could be flourishing. With support, a number are ready to upscale.

If only…

If only the state would set an example, show the way and hand over this land to those working it, with title deeds.

Is forsaking revenue from rentals a price the state is prepared to pay to demonstrate how land redistribution can be done.

No one will be removed from their land, with or without compensation. Farming that is already successfully underway won’t stop; it can only grow from this point. There will be no disruption in food production.

Ben Cousins from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) warns not to get too excited about this option. He says the state simply doesn’t own enough agricultural land to make much of a difference. It owns “at best a couple of hundred thousand hectares, probably much less. A few hundred farmers would benefit”.

So, make a start by benefitting a few hundred farmers.

Nevertheless, Cousins states, “there is simply no way to avoid redistributing large swathes of commercial farm land”.

But he adds something worth thinking about: “Given that 20% of farms contribute around 80% of agricultural value, targeting can avoid threats to food production and export earnings.” The way this can work, says Cousins, is by careful choice of which land to redistribute.

There is no "one size fits all" in land reform, and the option of distributing state-owned land that is already being farmed cannot be discounted. Maybe there is more such land where that came from.

Land expropriation without compensation is not the only way forward. The Expropriation Bill gazetted at the end of last year for the first time provides some clarity on what expropriation without compensation really means and how it will work.

Earlier this year Financial Mail spelled out five conditions under which the new law permits land to be justly and equitably expropriated without compensation ‑ and all meet the requirement that the expropriation is in the public interest or for a public purposes. These refer to land that is occupied or used by a labour tenant; land held for purely speculative purposes; land owned by a state-owned entity; land that has been abandoned by its owner; and land that is of a lesser value than any state subsidies from which it may have benefitted.

Land expropriation that does not meet these five conditions would require compensation, although it may take some time before property owners who lose their land receive any kind of monetary compensation.

Moira Levy

Last modified on Tuesday, 26 February 2019 11:40

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Notes from the House is an independent online publication that tracks and monitors Parliament’s role in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to improve the lives of South African citizens. Published by Moira Levy with the support of the Claude Leon Foundation.

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