Forestry in South Africa
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August : Redistribution to focus on gaining “quality land

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15 August, 2013

Redistribution to focus on gaining “quality land"

Herewith please find an article in today's Business Day which confirms the shift in emphasis on land matters, which FSA have been consistently reporting on since we first started engaging Minister Nkwinti.

While much of this is indeed encouraging, the big challenge, which has not diminished in importance either politically or socially, is that of tenure security for farm dwellers and in this regard, we reported last month on some of the Minister's controversial but well-intentioned proposals. We are meeting with the other NAREG working group members from AgriSA tomorrow to discuss these further and will then convene the FSA Land Committee.

Redistribution to focus on gaining ‘quality land'

by Shannon Sherry, August 13 2013, 06:46

RURAL Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti said on Monday the government's target of transferring at least 30% of land to black ownership had been fine-tuned to stress quality over quantity.

Mr Nkwinti said the focus was now on the transfer of "100% developed, productive land".

"We are moving away from the quantitative towards the qualitative aspect of land reform," said Mr Nkwinti at the presentation of the Land Bank's annual results.

The announcement comes as South Africa's land reform programme stutters along amid a trio of bills interpreted by many as further undermining the "willing buyer, willing seller" principle that originally governed land transfer talks.

The Expropriation Bill extends the state's power to expropriate property, while the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill seeks to reopen land claims and "will create 20 years of uncertainty over title, to the detriment of food security", says South African Institute of Race Relations chief researcher Anthea Jeffery.

The Property Valuation Bill gives a valuer-general sole power to decide on the value of the property to be expropriated.

Studies and experience have revealed, however, that the hunger for land evident in countries such as Zimbabwe might be largely absent in South Africa. Mr Nkwinti revealed that of about 79,000 land claims received since the process began, more than 71,000 of the claimants preferred financial compensation.

Fewer than 6,000 of the claims had been specifically for the return of land, he said.

Ms Jeffery mentioned recent studies that she said largely corresponded with Mr Nkwinti's figures. "It shows how little land hunger there really is, because South Africa is urbanising rapidly. But the government has always talked as if the country has a vested interest in land reform," she said.

AgriSA president Johannes Möller agreed with the impression that "land claimants will rather take money. So it doesn't make sense, all the talk about land reform being important for stability.

"People don't want to be farmers. They want money to buy houses and other things."

Mr Nkwinti said the popular perception that land reform was failing was wrong. However, Ms Jeffery pointed out that Mr Nkwinti had acknowledged the scale of the failure of land reform, giving a figure of 90% of transferred land falling into disuse. "It depends how you define failure," she said. "If it is about creating productive black farmers then it is a failure."

Mr Möller said: "If redressing injustice is its purpose, land reform might be called a success. But if it is about getting black people to farm and improving food security then it is a failure." He said South Africa needed "other models" for land reform in which new farmers and established farmers co-operated.

"You need to farm to scale to be viable. Small farmers won't succeed on their own because they will have great difficulty in making a profit."

Mr Möller welcomed the shift towards acquiring productive land but doubted whether the beneficiaries could manage highly technical systems. "Some farming production systems are so sophisticated, you cannot just hand it over to anyone, whether they are black or white."

Mr Nkwinti said land reform was also bedevilled by "problems in the market". He mentioned a transaction in which the government was quoted R35,000/ha, ostensibly by a group of Limpopo farmers. On investigation, however, it emerged the farmers wanted R7,500/ha.

"It is not farmers inflating land prices," said Mr Nkwinti. "There are people between the farmers and the government who are doing it."

These remarks echoed those of many landowners who allege that corrupt officials inflate prices that the government pays and then receive backhanders.

However, both Ms Jeffery and Mr Möller agreed that government seemed to be acquiring land and then holding on to it instead of redistributing it.

"They acquire it and then do not release it to beneficiaries," said Mr Möller. This meant that the land could not be used as collateral for finance and farmers were forced to use their harvest to raise funds.

"But harvests fail, and the banks know it," said Mr Möller.