South Africa has reversed gains in its goal of transferring 30% of commercial farmland to blacks by 2014 after aspirant farmers resold land bought for them by the government, a Cabinet minister said on Wednesday.
Land ownership is a sensitive issue in South Africa and has been brought into focus by the decline in agriculture in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where many white-owned commercial farms were seized by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Africa’s top maize producer set the 30% target when white minority rule ended in 1994 as part of a wider “empowerment” drive to give previously excluded blacks a bigger share of ownership across the economy.
“Figures we had was about 7% but about 2% leaked out,” Gugile Nkwinti, minister of rural development and land reform, told reporters ahead of tabling a draft land reform policy in Parliament.
This “leakage” occurred because the government bought land and handed it over to aspirant farmers who then sold it again, in many instances back to the original owner, he said.
“So, more or less we talk about 5% [at present],” Nkwinti said.
Nkwinti reiterated it would be tough to raise the R40-billion required to buy land on a willing-seller, willing-buyer model to reach the 30% target.
The slow pace of redistribution has fuelled calls by Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of the ANC Youth League, for white-owned farm land in South Africa to be forcibly taken over by the state.
Malema is fighting for his political life as he faced possible suspension from the ANC, but rural poverty will keep the land issue alive regardless.
Agriculture, which is very labour-intensive in South Africa, has been pegged as a key sector to help create five-million jobs by 2020 but uncertainty has slowed investment and raised concerns about food security.
Many of the farms transferred to black farmers are standing fallow because they lack experience and support although impoverished Zambia and Malawi have boosted maize harvests by small subsidies to peasant farmers, underscoring the dividends that can be reaped by targeted assistance.
The draft policy proposes restrictions on the sale of land to foreigners as part of a drive to accelerate reform without disrupting food production.
It also creates a quasi-judicial land management commission that will have far-reaching powers. — Reuters