Willie Spies from the FF+ at the Pretoria High court. Picture: Etienne Creux

Durban - Some farmers are abandoning crops and cattle in favour of high-class game ranching in a bid to profit from land claims – and this was creating bad blood in rural communities.

This was according to UKZN historian, Khethaa Lukhozi, who said changing to game farming displaced and marginalised tenant-workers who had been living on commercial farms for decades and doing subsistence farming to feed their families.

Lukhozi was speaking at a Historical Association of South Africa conference in Durban.

The land issue was put back on the public agenda last week with Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s Green Paper on land reform and restitution.

It proposes farmers share up to half of their land with their workers. It also seeks to protect farmworkers from eviction after years of working on farms and to fast-track land reform. The paper has been derided by farmers and farmers’ associations.

Speaking to the Daily News after the conference, Lukhozi said some farmers – when faced with land claims – realised the value of the land was low because it was being used for conventional agriculture.

They would then turn to game ranching and high-end eco-tourism because they knew the value of the land would then increase substantially.

This was done to either make it unaffordable for the government to buy the land or to make a bigger profit should the land be expropriated.

Establishing game ranches on existing agricultural land exacerbated the animosity between farmers and local communities, he said. When community members saw game farms and the guest lodges being set up the anger sometimes led to arson, he said.

Game guards employed on these ranches were often outsiders, further alienating communities, he said.

He did, however, note that there had been instances in which communities were able to work hand in hand with farmers.

Lukhozi said a solution to the vexed land issue might lie in the government seeking farmers’ co-operation in transferring skills to workers so both parties benefited.

“If the farmer has nothing to gain then he won’t co-operate.”

Lukhozi, whose paper at the conference drew on a study he had done of a KZN Midlands farm, lamented the lack of research on land claim issues, even though it “affects us all”.

He was one of more than 100 delegates from more than 10 universities at the conference, the theme of which was reinterpreting past wars.

Legal spokesman for minority rights body AfriForum, Willie Spies, who was asked by the Daily News to comment, warned against people hatching “conspiracy theories”.

“Farmers are not trying to sabotage the land reform process,” he said.

Farmers were establishing game farms for economic reasons, he said. “There is a huge demand for game farming.”

Spies gave the example of Cyril Ramaphosa who, while still a private businessman, bid R19.5 million for a buffalo.

In response to the proposed government policy paper, Spies said: “There is merit in the idea that workers have a say in what is going on. A mechanism should be created through which people can be rewarded for the work they have done.”

He had doubts the policy would be successfully implemented. Land reform had been used by a “corrupt” government as a “political tool”. - Daily News