A quick fix for the perennial problem of land

BR Farm worker 894 Independent Newspapers Aphiwe Iliwe works on a fruit farm in Wolseley, Western Cape. New reform proposals are intended to benefit workers such as Iliwe by giving him a stake in the land he works. Photo: Henriette Geldenhuys

The latest radical land reform proposal revealed by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti last week in Parliament is a clear sign of frustration at the most complex area of South Africa’s political and economic landscape.

Experts, unions and agricultural commentators have either dismissed the proposal or have thrown their weight behind it. There is no middle ground.

The final draft of the “relative land rights proposal” was completed in February and the final policy proposals looking at “strengthening the relative rights of people working the land” were made public in an address to Parliament.

In a nutshell, the proposal states all farm owners must hand over 50 percent of their agricultural land to farmworkers without compensation. In essence, if you are a white farmer, half your land will be expropriated without compensation if the proposals are passed into law.

Aggrey Mahanjana, the managing director of the African Farmers’ Association of SA (Afasa), told Business Report that the minister was seeking a quick fix to a complex problem because he was under immense pressure.

Afasa has close to 500 000 members, most of whom are developing farmers. The association broke away from the National African Farmers Union in 2011.

Mahanjana said Afasa was opposed to the proposal.

“We do not agree that land must be given to farmworkers because there are so many business-minded people in South Africa who can benefit from agriculture. The aim is to ensure that land is productive, so you need someone who understands business. In most cases workers just do what the boss tells them to do,” he said.

There were also a lot of problems in the Eastern Cape, where there had been attempts to implement equity schemes. The government was continuing to deal with issues of infighting between owners and workers on the farms.

Mahanjana said the main challenge facing the minister was that he needed to speed up land reform. Mahanjana contended that the process needed extensive long-term investment if reform was to be achieved at satisfactory levels.

According to data from Afasa, 67 percent of South Africa’s total land area of about 122 million hectares, or about 81.7 million hectares, is “white-owned” commercial agricultural land.

About 15 percent (18 million hectares) is “black” communal land, mostly state owned. A further 10 percent (12.2 million hectares) is other state land.

The remaining 8 percent (9.8 million hectares) includes urban areas.

Agricultural land makes up 82 percent of the total land area and amounts to about 100 million hectares. If land ownership was in proportion to population levels, then it would be divided as follows:

- Black African – 79 percent;

- Coloureds – 8.92 percent;

- Whites – 8.86 percent; and

- Indians/Asians – 2.49 percent.

Another dynamic that needs to be taken into consideration is that farms along border areas such as Limpopo and Mpumalanga have significant numbers of foreign workers, which raises the question of whether the government would allow workers in these areas to hold 50 percent equity in agricultural activities.

The answer is no, according to Mahanjana, who argues no farmer would declare foreign nationals who work the land because of legal constraints.

Mahanjana said the main problem hindering land reform was the price of agricultural properties, which “white farmers have taken advantage of” given the way in which the government had chosen to engage in the process.

“Land is there on sale every day but there is not enough cash to purchase, or the capacity or funds to deliver on land reform objectives.

“The prices are ridiculous and farmers take advantage of that,” he said.

Whites will have to relinquish 72 million hectares of the land they own to reach the objective of representivity.

Of this, 60 million hectares must be transferred to the black population.

Currently, the budget for the land reform process is about R3.3 billion a year. Since 1994 the department has managed to transfer only 5 000 farms, comprising 4.2 million hectares, to the black population, benefiting 200 000 families.

The government also says nearly 80 000 land claims, totalling 3.4 million hectares, have been settled, benefiting 1.8 million people.

If 4.2 million hectares has been transferred over 20 years, then 61 million hectares would, at the current rate, be transferred over a period of 305 years. Land reform will be an indefinite process or project of the state. That is why, according to Mahanjana, Nkwinti is frustrated and is looking for short cuts.

Louw Steytler, the chairman of Grain SA, said the organisation did not support Nkwinti’s proposal, citing food security concerns.

However, Cosatu – which supports the government’s proposal – said the intention was to support co-operation between black and white entities in the agricultural landscape and between workers and bosses in the sector.

“This example of co-operation has been working on farms like Solms-Delta, with much improved production and increased sales and increasing profits. Here workers have real partnerships and influence in the running of the farms, with the social and business advantages being to the benefit of all,” the labour federation said.

Cosatu argued that greater social justice and equality on farms was the only sustainable way forward and was in the long-term interest of everyone.

In addition, many farms still needed to adhere to and adjust to principles of democratic industrial relations as many farmworkers still suffered from racial prejudice.

Apartheid-style “farm relations just increase the historical hostility between farmers and farmworkers. This conduct on farms is both bad for business and bad for the national project of building a nation that undoes the ills of apartheid,” Cosatu said.


sign up