End of the giant farms

There is no place for large farms in South Africa and some areas of game parks should be distributed to the landless, a top land official told the Mail & Guardian last week.

Tozi Gwanya, director general of the Department of Land Affairs, also said that ‘one farmer, one farm” should be seriously considered.

‘Though it is a bad slogan,” he smiled. ‘It reminds me too much of one farmer, one bullet.”

In a submission to Parliament last week Gwanya proposed a new land tax designed to discourage ownership of vast tracts of unutilised land.

‘Big farms need capital injections and help from the government to survive. That needs mechanisms,” Gwanya told the M&G. ‘A large number of South Africans are not coping with big farms.”

He said evidence of this was the number of farmers converting vast tracts of land into game farms because they could not afford to farm the land actively.

‘What we are saying is that instead of creating game farms the owners should rather give up some of the land to those in need of land.”

‘If you look at the congestion and thirst for land in the former homelands you understand that you cannot be increasing game parks,” Gwanya said. ‘Look at Bushbuckridge and those areas close to the Kruger and the private game parks — you must consider those people’s landlessness.”

He proposed that some of South Africa’s game-park land be given to those communities.

Gwanya admitted in Parliament that as things stand the land reform target of 30% agricultural land transferred by 2014 will not be met. The target was set by Thabo Mbeki when he became president in 1999.

‘It is impossible with the current budget,” he said, adding that he has asked treasury for more funding.

Gwanya said his department would have needed an additional R2,5-billion this year to meet the deadline.

He admitted that only 646 000 hectares had been transferred this year, whereas the department would have needed to buy 1,5-million hectares.

‘If you want land reform, you have to pay for it. You can’t just take people’s land. We cannot meet these targets without the necessary funds,” he said.

Gwanya also believes that the current land expropriation Bill, which was shelved in August, needs to make a comeback next year if land reform is to be tackled.

‘The current expropriation Act as it stands, is not only expensive, it is unconstitutional. It does not recognise land reform as being in the public interest,” he said.

‘Therefore we need the new Bill to be approved in Parliament as soon as possible.”

DA land commentator Kraai van Niekerk has urged the government to speed up land reform by distributing some state land.

But Gwanya says this is impractical. A recently completed audit found that most of the 24-million hectares belonging to government were being utilised by hospitals, clinics, schools and the military. Some land belongs to communities in the former homelands, which will receive their title deeds soon.

As a result, only 1,1-million hectares of state land was available for redistribution, which left 19,8-mllion hectares still to be delivered.

Gwanya said he was disappointed that half the government’s land-reform projects had collapsed. He had harsh words for the beneficiaries of land programmes who wanted the land, but who, once they had it, failed to display the passion they had shown earlier when they campaigned for it.

‘We need the spirit of the farmer,” he said.

‘Something needs to wake him up at 3am and make him go and walk his land. But I think this spirit has died over the years. Farmers are an ageing group. Few people have got that spark left.”

He admitted that government has failed some communities, but says communities have also wasted government grants on salaries for themselves, while their farms need desperate investment. Some communities had sold off their land again, therebye undermining land reform.

As a result government has inserted a clause stating that communities may not sell their land without permission from the minister of land affairs. Gwanya said if communities did not use their grants for farming, the government would cancel them.

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Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald
Yolandi Groenewald is a South African environmental reporter, particularly experienced in the investigative field. After 10 years at the Mail & Guardian, she signed on with City Press in 2011. Her investigative environmental features have been recognised with numerous national journalism awards. Her coverage revolves around climate change politics, land reform, polluting mines, and environmental health. The world’s journey to find a deal to address climate change has shaped her career to a great degree. Yolandi attended her first climate change conference in Montreal in 2005. In the last decade, she has been present at seven of the COP’s, including the all-important COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. South Africa’s own addiction to coal in the midst of these talks has featured prominently in her reports.

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