Given the deteriorating conditions of the nation’s land reform programme as evidenced by new research from the Centre for Development and Enterprise, executive director Ann Bernstein said current policy is not working for its intended beneficiaries.

“Many – if not the majority – of participants in land reform projects are not better off after receiving their new land.” Similarly, she said, policy is neglecting the realities of commercial agriculture.

“This important sector is being prevented – mainly because of lack of capacity in the DLA and the stalled restitution process – from playing the active and constructive role so essential for successful transformation of agriculture. Current approaches are not helping to establish a new foundation for development in our long neglected poorest rural areas. All these challenges are starting to put the future of commercial agriculture at risk and are leading to more and more attacks on private property and market forces.

“We have to renegotiate how to bring justice to those whose land was stolen and put in place the foundations for a better future for rural South Africans and a de-racialised agricultural economy. Getting this right is essential not just for the rural areas but for the country as a whole”

She said CDE is putting forward a bold plan to get land reform and rural development back on track.

The plan:

  • calls for an urgent national effort involving business to resolve the impasse on restitution speedily
  • calls for an immediate authoritative study on the location, current usage and potential for redistribution of state land
  • calls for the redistribution of significant tracts of land for urban and rural needs, once we have established where people want this land and for what purpose it will be used, so that we can match supply and demand more effectively than we are doing now
  • emphasizes the importance for the country of protecting its ability to produce food and grow the agricultural sector and hence the importance of supporting the 500-600 highest quality large farms on which the country relies for food and export earnings
  • spells out a new approach to dealing directly with rural poverty.

“Our recommendations are designed to ensure that justice is done, that land reform beneficiaries are made permanently better off, and that South African agriculture transforms, continues to attract investment, generates export earnings and provides a growing number of good jobs,” Bernstein said.

“Our proposals are built on the reality that the DLA currently has a vacancy rate of 27%, including many senior positions.

CDE suggests, inter alia:

First and foremost, establishing a talented, action-oriented partnership comprising senior leaders in government, the ruling party and the private sector, particularly agri-business. The task force should have its own budget and should report every six months to parliament on progress with respect to land issues. Its work should cover five areas. These are:

  • Completing restitution speedily: The resolution of the restitution impasse is the first priority for successful land reform, because it lies at the root of so many other problems in virtually all regions of the country. Large agri-companies are offering assistance with creative plans to make speedy progress in generous settlements – they need willing and competent partners in the state.
  • Getting redistribution on the right track and to significant scale in rural and urban areas. To do this, we need an audit of state land, and an informed knowledge of the nature of demand for land (whether for settlement or farming; by whom and in which parts of the country). A partnership approach is needed to acquire land in a market supporting way that meets the diverse needs of poorer people cost effectively and in the right parts of the country.
  • De-racialising commercial agriculture through more agri-business support for redistribution and effective farming in each sector of the agricultural economy, BEE deals and the establishment of villages for farm workers and their families, (Getting commercial agriculture back onto a sound footing will also require redesigning the land tenure laws affecting both commercial and communal land.)
  • Tackling rural poverty directly through the establishment of a blue ribbon commission funded by the private sector and international donors to develop an economic and development strategy for rural ‘routes out of poverty’; and a dedicated education fund of R1 billion per annum of state money to provide expanded opportunities for rural learners to go to agricultural college or study maths, science and language to enable them to become professionals.
  • Spending more on land reform and spending it better: The treasury has rightly been cautious in its allocations to the DLA and has had to retrieve unspent funds in the past. A bigger budget is essential for land reform but this can only happen if the kinds of partnerships we are proposing are established. The capacity to spend more money and do this effectively is just not available in the DLA alone.

Bernstein said: “Above all, we need to change the way we think and talk about land reform. We need to move away from Zimbabwe-style terminology. We must move towards concepts like co-operative relationships between state and market, sustainable development, escaping rural poverty, and expanding educational and economic opportunity to prepare rural South Africans for the twenty-first century.

“We are proposing a public-private partnership to provide the leadership South Africa needs to show that we can resolve a difficult issue arising from our history and do it in such a way that everyone benefits from the process.”