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February 26, 2012

South Africa to support struggling land reform farms

South Africa’s land reform effort has been criticized for its heavy focus on simple ‘restitution’ of land expropriated from its black citizens during apartheid. There has been much less attention paid to ensuring that the beneficiaries are then assisted to be viable commercial farmers, as previous governments did for white farmers.

There are targets for how much land should be ‘restituted’ to black South African by a certain period, but no targets for what the new farmers should be able to achieve in a given number of years. Historical, racial, cultural and other aspects of the country’s currently lopsided land distribution patterns are partly addressed, but without also taking into account the commercial viability of ‘new’ farmers or the agricultural productivity of the economy.

Without technical and financial support, many land reform farms have gone broke. In 2011 a parliamentary committee revealed that black farmers had resold almost two million of the six million hectares of farm land bought for them by the government; often back to the previous owners.

There are now modest efforts to go beyond simply re-distributing land, to also giving some of the new landholders to be viable farmers. As part of this, the government has announced a R28 million facility “to restructure and fund 13 unproductive land reform farms in the North West province.”

It is the first disbursement by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform under a new strategy called Recapitalization and Development Programme.

A spokesman said, "The department has committed itself to recapitalize more than 1,000 deserted and unproductive farms nationally. A farm will be funded under close supervision of the department in order to ensure sustainability.”

‘Strategic partners’ had been selected within the commercial farming community to ensure the success of the programme.

The strict racial regimentation of apartheid that led to laws leading to mass land expropriation from blacks to whites means that land reform is a pressing but touchy issue for South Africa. Long after the formal end of apartheid in 1994, there is still debate but relatively little action about how to addresses the injustices of the past while also ensuring that the exercise does not only address sentimental issues, but agricultural and economic ones as well.

South Africa’s ever-present land reform debate has recently become feverish after a white deputy minister said blacks had no historical claim on up to 40% of the country’s land mass, and could not allege dispossession of it by whites. On the other extreme are South African blacks who are offended by the very idea of apartheid-expropriated land needing to be ‘bought back’ by the government.

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