Thursday, December 08, 2016

Land reform is no reform

South Africa has a history of colonisation, racial domination, and racially-based land dispossession. Black people were forced off the land they owned and they depended for their livelihoods through numerous legislative policies and other coercive measures. In 1994, South Africa’s democratic government implemented land reform to rectify these past racial injustices, to correct skewed land ownership patterns and to alleviate poverty. There is a general agreement that land reform has been a failure and needs to be sped up. Research shows that between 70% to 90% of the projects (including land restitution projects) have failed. The  study showed that beneficiaries remain poor 17 years after being given their land back. Most are unable to generate a livelihood from agriculture and depend on state social grants for survival. Beneficiaries were able to rejoice at having their land back, but they have been unable to escape poverty.

What’s gone wrong?

The Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies notes that: “South African land reform beneficiaries have been victims of unworkable project designs, largely irrelevant to their livelihood possibilities, aspirations and abilities.”

Land reform has contributed little to helping beneficiaries earn a livelihood from the land. An important component of land reform was for the beneficiaries to become self-sufficient. Projects are designed in a way that favours capital intensive commercial farming unsuitable to the beneficiaries’ circumstances. Other reasons include inadequate post-settlement support, lack of skills, poor planning and infighting within communities. Findings show that land beneficiaries have been virtually neglected by the government.

One farmer commented on the absence of support: “We don’t get the necessary support from the government man! We don’t get it, at all, they are not interested in coming to support us and help us to give us something … They should come here and make a workshop and call us together, those who are interested in farming and stuff like that, there would be a lot of people because I am not the only one… They don’t support us! They do give the land, and what’s the reason of giving people land and then not helping them? Because we need a tractor, we need this and that, we need seeds…” 

Giving people land and then depriving them of appropriate support to earn a living from the land is regressive. It is self-defeating for the government to dump people on land without sufficient or relevant support. If land reform continues in its current fashion, its prospects are doomed.

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