Land reform in South Africa

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The land reform in SA promises "land restitution" that aims to empower farm workers (who now have the opportunity to become farmers) and reduce inequality.[1] It is believed to allow previously unemployed people to participate in the economy and better the country's economic growth.[2]

However, many South Africans and foreign commentators have also voiced alarm over the failure of the redistribution policy. Around 50% of farms are said to be failing,[3] and critics suggest that the ANC government's policy will be detrimental to the South African agricultural industry.

The reform[edit]

The Land Reform Process focused on three areas: restitution, land tenure reform and land redistribution.[4][5] Restitution, where the government compensates (monetary) individuals who had been forcefully removed, has been very unsuccessful and the policy has now shifted to redistribution with secure land tenure. Land tenure reform is a system of recognizing people's right to own land and therefore control of the land.

Redistribution is the most important component of land reform in South Africa.[6] Initially, land was bought from its owners (willing seller) by the government (willing buyer) and redistributed, in order to maintain public confidence in the land market.[4]

Although this system has worked in various countries in the world, in South Africa it has proved to be very difficult to implement. This is because many owners do not actually see the land they are purchasing and are not involved in the important decisions made at the beginning of the purchase and negotiation.

In 2000 the South African Government decided to review and change the redistribution and tenure process to a more decentralised and area based planning process. The idea is to have local integrated development plans in 47 districts. This will hopefully mean more community participation and more redistribution taking place, but there are also various concerns and challenges with this system too.[7]

These include the use of third parties, agents accredited by the state, and who are held accountable to the government. The result has been local land holding elites dominating the system in many of these areas. The government still hopes that with "improved identification and selection of beneficiaries, better planning of land and ultimately greater productivity of the land acquired..."[6] the land reform process will begin moving faster.[7]

As of early 2006, the ANC government announced that it will start expropriating the land, although according to the country's chief land-claims commissioner, Tozi Gwanya, unlike Zimbabwe there will be compensation to those whose land is expropriated, "but it must be a just amount, not inflated sums."[8]

Despite these moves towards decentralisation, these improved practices and government promises are not very evident. South Africa still remains hugely unequal, with black South Africans still dispossessed of land and many still homeless. The challenge for the incumbent politicians is to improve the various bureaucratic processes, and find solutions to giving more South Africans secure land tenure.

In South Africa, the main model of Land Reforms that was implemented was based on the Market-led Agrarian Reform (MLAR) approach. Within the MLAR, the strategic partnership (SP) model was implemented in seven claimant communities in Levubu in the Limpopo province. The SP model was implemented between 2005–2008 that ended up in a fiasco leading to creation of conflict between several interested parties.[9]

On 1 September 2010 the National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC) was launched by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to provide and recruit rural youth specifically dependents of Military Veterans between the ages of 18–25 with skills development and to serve their communities by providing a 24-month training program at South African military bases.[10]

On 20 December 2017 the ruling ANC-led government announced at their 54th National Conference that they will seek to amend Section 25 of the South African Constitution regarding property rights to implement land expropriation without compensation (EWC). At the conference a resolution was passed to grant ownership of traditional land to the respective communities, about 13% of the country, usually registered in trust like the Ingonyama Trust under the name of traditional leaders to the respective communities.[11]

In February 2018, the Parliament of South Africa passed a motion to review the property ownership clause of the constitution, to allow for the expropriation of land, in the public interest, without compensation,[12][13][14] which was widely supported within South Africa's ruling party on the grounds that the land was originally seized by whites without just compensation.[15] South African officials argue the land reform will be different than Zimbabwe's failed land reforms in that South Africa's plan is "constitutional" and "subject to laws and the constitution," unlike Zimbabwe's process which was overseen by dictator Robert Mugabe.[16]

In August 2018, the South African government began the process of taking two white-owned farmlands by filing papers seeking to acquire the farms via eminent domain for one-tenth of their estimated value, (which in one case is based on possible value when the farm is developed into an eco-estate).[17] According to a 2017 government audit, 72 percent of the nation's private farmland is owned by white people, who make up 9 percent of the population.[18] The organization Afriforum claim that 24% of South African land is owned by the state and 34,5% is owned by black people.[19]

Future challenges[edit]

Various researchers have identified various challenges facing land and agrarian reform in South Africa. The following are amongst the challenges as identified by (Hall 2004) and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (2008):

  • Willing seller-willing buyer principle: it takes a long time to negotiate land price with the current land owners;
  • Claim disputes: it is a long process to mediate and resolve claim disputes (e.g. unresolved disputes between Makgoba Traditional Council and the Trust in the Limpopo Province, South Africa);
  • Capacity: there is lack of institutional capacity for community legal entities (e.g. trust);
  • Beneficiary selection: it is a lengthy process and time consuming process to select the rightful beneficiaries for land redistribution;
  • Resettlement support: it requires enough resources and time to effectively facilitate post-resettlement support to new land owners;
  • Monitoring and evaluation: there is lack of reliable monitoring system and evaluation thereof;
  • Policy: there are gaps in the current policies which compromise effective implementation of land reform programme.
  • Different political views: there is lack of common consensus among political parties on land reform debate.

Unresolved land claims, which are largely rural claims, are mostly affected by a number of challenges such as:

  • disputes with land owners on the validity of claims, land prices, settlement models and conditions;
  • family or community dispute;
  • conflict among traditional leaders, community, trust and beneficiaries
  • boundaries disputes among traditional leaders;
  • reluctance of other government departments and institutions to release state land;
  • high land prices and disputes on land valuation;
  • land price negotiations with current owners;
  • lack of technical and financial support;
  • mismanagement of resources;
  • untraceable claimants; and
  • land claim disputes resolution and mediation.

The Financial and Fiscal Commission's 2016 report[20][21][edit]

As of 2016 the South African government has pumped more than R60bn into land reform projects since 1994. Despite this investment, the land reform programme has not stimulated development in the targeted rural areas. A report by the South African Government's Financial and Fiscal Commission shows that land reform as a mechanism for agricultural development and job creation has failed. A survey by the commission in Limpopo province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape found that most land reform farms show little or no agricultural activity; the land reform beneficiaries earn little to no income, and the majority of these beneficiaries seek work on surrounding commercial farms instead of actively farming their own land. Where farming is taking place on land reform farms, these farms operate below their full agricultural potential and are mainly used for subsistence agriculture. On average, crop production had decreased by 79% since conversion to land reform. In the three provinces surveyed, job losses averaged 84%, with KwaZulu-Natal suffering a 94% job haemorrhage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keefer, Philip; Knack, Stephen (2002). "Polarization, Politics and Property Rights: Links Between Inequality and Growth". Public Choice. 111 (1/2): 127–154. doi:10.1023/A:1015168000336. ISSN 0048-5829.
  2. ^ Torstensson, Johan (1994). "Property Rights and Economic Growth: An Empirical Study". Kyklos. 47 (2): 231–247. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6435.1994.tb02257.x. ISSN 0023-5962.
  3. ^ "Seeds of change". The Economist. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  4. ^ a b Deininger, Klaus (1999). "Making Negotiated Land Reform Work: Initial Experience from Colombia, Brazil and South Africa". World Development. 27 (4): 651–672. doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(99)00023-6. ISSN 0305-750X.
  5. ^ Moseley, William G.; McCusker, Brent (2010). "Fighting Fire with a Broken Teacup: A Comparative Analysis of South Africa's Land-Redistribution Program". Geographical Review. 98 (3): 322–338. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2008.tb00304.x. ISSN 0016-7428.
  6. ^ a b Lahiff, Edward (2008). Land Reform in South Africa: A status Report 2008 (PDF). Program for Land and Agrarian Studies. p. 42.
  7. ^ a b Hall, Ruth (23 April 2008), "Decentralization in South Africa's Land Redistribution.", Presentation to the PLAAS regional workshop on Land Reform from Below? Decentralization of Land Reform in Southern Africa., Kopanong Conference Centre, Kempton Park, Johannesburg: Program for land and agrarian studies
  8. ^ "SA land expropriation to start soon". Mail & Guardian Online. 7 February 2006. Archived from the original on 31 March 2006. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  9. ^ Basu, Soutrik. "Community, Conflict and Land: Exploring the Strategic Partnership Model of South African Land Restitution". Journal of International Development. 28: 733–748. doi:10.1002/jid.3150.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Merten, Marianne. "#ANCdecides2017: Land expropriation without compensation makes grand entrance - Daily Maverick".
  12. ^ Pather, Ra'eesa. "First step to land expropriation without compensation". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  13. ^ "National Assembly gives the Constitution Review Committee mandate to review Section 25 of the Constitution" (Press release).
  14. ^ Minutes of Proceedings of National Assembly. No 3 of 2018, 2018-02-27
  15. ^ "South Africa votes to seize land from white farmers". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-08-23.
  16. ^ "Land expropriation: Why South Africa won't become a "second Zimbabwe"". 1 March 2018.
  17. ^ Eybers, Johan (19 August 2018). "Dispute after state authorised expropriation of farm". City Press.
  18. ^, The Washington Times. "South Africa begins seizing white-owned farms".
  19. ^ (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Dawood, Ghalieb (30 September 2016). "Land reform farms fail to produce". Business Day Live. Archived from the original on 2016-10-01. Retrieved 2016-10-01.
  21. ^ Dawood, Ghalieb (2016). National Land Reform Programme and Rural Development (Policy Brief 3) (Report). Financial and Fiscal Commission. Archived from the original on 2017-05-22. Retrieved 2018-08-23.


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