Land Reform Can Be A Success In South Africa

By Marvin Silawule

Land has been expropriated before in South Africa, the 1913 Land Act was a channel of expropriation, it stated that people of colour (black people) could not purchase any land earmarked for Europeans (white people) which was approximately 93% of South Africa’s Land. This only meant that black people only had access to 7% of the country’s land even though they were the majority race.

Throughout time the 1913 Land Act enabled white people to progress economically at an unprecedented astronomical growth rate via the establishment of large farming cooperatives and financial institutions that enabled such growth. This has led to supreme levels of economic disparity amongst black people and perhaps one can even take it a step further to say that this has driven today’s economy into subdued growth rates.

This then leads to the controversial land question which has been circulating post South Africa’s democracy. Should the land be expropriated without compensation? and if so, which land needs to be expropriated?

Image Source: Andile Siphesihle Ngcobo

The last agricultural census conducted by Stats SA was in 2007 which obtained a view of tax registered farming entities in South Africa. It was estimated that 30 000 to 40 000 commercial farmers controlled the country’s agricultural output and indicatively our food security. Politically this may seem truly unfair that a small group of people have weight on the country’s food security, however we cannot randomly expropriate this land as it has unbearable economic consequences.

So how then do we go about expropriating land? It is not a simple process, government needs to make means and find resources to identify black communities that are already involved in agricultural activities and give them access to more land so that they can increase the scale of their produce and have leverage to enter commercial markets where they can make sustainable profits. This in turn should solve for the unemployment challenge through creating jobs.

Another alternative to address the land issue is by creating a shareholding scheme for the African communities that labour on one of the farms that are owned by the 30 000 to 40 000 farmers. If the farm owner employs more than a specific number of people on a fulltime basis, then the staff must have a share in the profits of the farming enterprise through a 10% to 50% stake in the business. This should over time improve the income inequality between the farm owner and the farm workers and create sustainable wealth over time

Asia’s Tiger economies are a great platform for learning. Authorities in developing Asia ensured that land rights were secured for people in rural areas in the form of a pro-poor land reform strategy. The main goal of this strategy was to grow employment and agricultural output, then progress towards manufacturing and exports and lastly integrate financial institutions to support these initiatives by channelling capital.

Evidence of Asia’s land reform strategies can be seen from South Korea’s rice exports increasing by 40% throughout the 1960’s and 25% throughout the 1970’s. Taiwan also experienced positive rice yields of 60% per hectare in the decade post the introduction of the land reform strategy.

Key learnings can also be drawn from Venezuela’s agrarian reform policy, which led to successful outcomes such as small holder farmers having the ability to produce more coffee and ultimately contributing towards the country’s economic growth. The reform policy was funded by proceeds generated from the sale of oil and despite the country’s oil economy tumbling down, the very nature of the agrarian reform policy was a success.

Land Reform can be a success in South Africa, if the main objectives are to achieve sustainable economic growth and uplift our people from extreme levels of poverty. Government and custodians of the private sector need to put aside political differences and put the people first. This is not about achieving immediate outcomes today, but creating wealth for future generations to come.

I-Africa li lizwe lethu

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