South Africa

Land Reform Overdue in South Africa
land reform

Land Reform - Running Out Of Time

Land reform is overdue in South Africa. The successful path to land reform -- a property tax shift -- is not being considered, yet it is the only alternative to tragic violence.

by Danielle Owen

JOHANNESBURG - Patrick Mojapelo (59) has waited five years for the South African government to return 30 farms stolen from his community by previous white governments in the 1930s.

On Monday, he told President Thabo Mbeki that he will wait no longer.

"We have been claiming [our land through the government's land restitution programme] since 1995 and so far we haven't even got one farm.

"We keep meeting with Department of Land Affairs officials and they make so many promises, but still we don't have a single farm," said Mojapelo.

Mojapelo was one of more than 150 people - representing tens of thousands of families claiming land stolen before and during apartheid - who traveled hundreds of kilometers this week to the seat of South Africa's new government to demand action from the highest office in the country.

The peaceful protesters resisted police efforts to remove them from the public lawn of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They waved banners bearing the names of their landless communities who have grown impatient with post-apartheid promises of land reform.

Five young girls played the drums as the adults told a representative from Mbeki's office that they had had enough.

"The dispossession of black people from the land was a central part of the apartheid regime's systematic subjugation of the black majority, politically, economically, culturally and socially.

"In the absence of any meaningful land reform, the effects of this history of dispossession continue to keep people in poverty today. Despite this there has been no fundamental change in land access and ownership in South Africa since 1994," said Mojapelo, reading a memorandum from the protesters to Mbeki.

When South Africa's first black government took power in 1994, it promised widespread land reform to reverse the apartheid land policy.

Three land reform programmes were introduced, including: land restitution, to restore land to the victims of forced removals between 1913 and 1994; land redistribution which promised to transfer 30 percent of agricultural land to black people by 1999; and tenure reform to address the insecurity of farm workers, labour tenants and people living on state and communal land.

According to the protesters' memorandum, however, "There is virtually no land delivery on Land Restitution. Only two land claims have been settled in the Northern Province, despite thousands having been lodged."

Even government land reform statistics show that less than 5 000 of the 63,500 land restitution claims lodged across the country before 1999 have been settled.

The protesters said even these statistics 'hide the fact that most of the claims settled are urban claims settled through cash compensation'. This means, they say, that even amongst the fortunate few, most have not actually had land restored to them.

The majority have received nothing. And they are beginning to mobilise.

This week's protest was led by the Northern Province Land Rights Coalition, which represents more than 60 000 land claimant families, and the South Cape and Karoo Land Claims Forum, representing more than 3 000 community land claims.

The two groups complained that they had written dozens of letters to Mbeki, and to Agriculture and Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza, but to no avail.

One South Cape protester, Henry Rhodes, warned that continued government lethargy could see some communities following the example of Zimbabwean war veterans and invading their land.

It is a warning that has been repeated by several communities in recent months.

The slow pace of land restitution is blamed on the costs of the current land policy, through which the government buys land on a 'willing-seller, willing-buyer' basis, similar to the policy that ruined Zimbabwe's half-hearted land reform efforts.

This has led the government to pay 'market-value' prices for occasional land it purchases from white farmers, many of whom benefited from cheap land and large state farming subsidies during apartheid.

Mojapelo said the lack of money appears to be at the root of his community's despair. "They say there must be willing-seller and willing-buyer. In our area, there are many willing sellers. The government must just give them the money, but so far they have done nothing."

Last week, South Africa's non-governmental land rights network, the National Land Committee (NLC), which supported this week's protest, called on the government to pay 'minimal compensation to current landowners' whose land is purchased for land reform.

The committee also demanded that the government use its powers to expropriate land from landowners who refuse to cooperate.

Speaking at a press conference last week, following a two-day policy summit with the committee's eight affiliate land rights groups, NLC chairperson Wayne Jordaan said six years had passed since the birth of South Africa's new dispensation.

He said President Thabo Mbeki had been in office a full year yet land reform remained 'slow and disappointing'.

The NLC, the Northern Province Land Rights Coalition, and the South Cape and Karoo Land Claims Forum all agree that the slow pace of land restitution is not the only problem.

The protesters' memorandum also complained that: "There is still confusion regarding redistribution projects [following a recent government policy shift] and no direction on tenure reform in communal areas. Even long-term farm dwellers continue to face evictions and insecurity as a low class of tenants on another person's land".

The government's own statistics show that it has failed to deliver its promise to redistribute 30 percent of agricultural land.

So far less than one percent of agricultural land has been delivered to black people in six years, leaving the country's apartheid-era land ownership imbalance - 87 percent of land owned by whites, and 13 percent by blacks - virtually unchanged.

Tenure reform has also failed to end the insecurity and brutality that black farm dwellers suffer at the hands of white landowners, with gross human rights violations continuing unabated on white farms.

And last year the government suspended a draft law intended to improve tenure rights for millions of black people living in communal areas, with no word on whether, or when, this will be revived.

The protesters demanded that Mbeki ensure that "Land Reform must transform the current inequitable pattern of land ownership and give the rural poor secure homes, opportunities to produce for themselves, and lives of dignity."

They warned that for the rural poor, "land rights are the key to secure homes, jobs, food, and a meaningful social and cultural life. There can be no full enjoyment of human rights without land rights".

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This article was distributed by the InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS) and the Grassroots Media Network.


South Africa can obtain land reform without violence if it raises the tax on the value of land -- then land will be less desirable for speculators to hold, and cheaper to buy. Taxes on labor and capital could be reduced at the same time, benefitting all. But what is your opinion? Tell it to your fellow readers at The Progress Report:

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