Who'll own the land? – Politicsweb, 29 May 2016

John Kane-Berman says the ANC govt is no fan of individual ownership by either white or black South Africans.

By John Kane-Berman 

Land reform: levelling up or levelling down?

South Africa's Land Act of 1913 prohibited inter-racial transfers of land both inside and outside what later were designated as the "homelands". It was repealed in 1991, as was the 1936 act.

Since repeal, millions of hectares of farm land have been transferred from white to black via the restitution and redistribution processes. An unknown but possibly very large quantity of agricultural land has also changed hands as blacks have simply bought it on the market. If this were to be taken into account, the government's objective that 30% of white agricultural land should be transferred to blacks might already have been met.

However, transfers via the market are not counted towards the 30%. As the minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, has said, "I myself bought land, but this is not reflected when we measure black ownership". The same applies to all the other farms purchased by blacks on the willing-buyer-willing-seller basis in the 25 years since repeal. 

Excluding market transfers from the official count is bizarre, although it is in line with government thinking that redistribution is something that only the state can do. But what the state is of course doing is transferring land not from white farmers to black ones, but from white farmers to itself. For several years now leasehold has been the only form of title available to beneficiaries of land reform in the commercial areas formerly designated as the "white area". This, according to Mr Nkwinti, is to stop any sales to whites after transfer.

Among the consequences of confining black farmers in the commercial areas to leasehold is that they are unable to get access to finance because they do not have title deeds.

According to the National Emergent Red Meat Producers' Organisation (Nerpo), one of the leading black agricultural associations, only about 5% of smallholder black farmers own farms.

The rest produce under "precarious land-tenure arrangements" either on land leased from the state (15%), or on communal land (80%). Several of the white farming organisations trying to assist new black farmers complain that denying them individual title dashes their hopes of becoming successful.

According to the Agricultural Policy Action Plan for 2015 to 2019 approved by the Cabinet last year, the former homelands contain "hundreds of thousands" of hectares of land, some of it with above-average rainfall, which is underutilised. In other words, it could be made much more productive.

The government's intentions with regard to ownership of this land are not clear. But allowing small black farmers on communal land to acquire individual title to that land would be unpopular with traditional leaders. The African National Congress (ANC) has also said it does not want "black economic empowerment types" to buy up this land.
So despite the repeal of the hated land acts, there seems to be a freeze on the acquisition of individual title by black beneficiaries of land reform.  

While black land-reform beneficiaries are denied individual land-ownership title, white ownership is under threat from measures over and above the reopening of the land claims process until 2019. Last week Parliament passed legislation that will extend the expropriation powers of the state, while legislation in the pipeline will limit farm sizes, presumably to make more land available to the state to lease to black farmers. Also in the offing is legislation to make the state the custodian of all agricultural land, over which it will then grant licences to farm.

All of this will limit white farmers' land rights, but without extending to black beneficiaries of land reform the rights that white farmers previously enjoyed. Instead, it would appear, more and more land is to be acquired by the state, with white and black farmers alike subject to its increasingly capricious behaviour.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the South African Institute of Race Relations, a think-tank promoting political and economic freedom.

Read the column on Politicsweb here