Land redistribution to speed up

The government is pushing ahead with steadfast commitment toward the complete transformation of the land reform and rural development landscape in the country. 

Over the past 21 years of democracy, gains have been made but these have not fully translated into the envisaged vision of vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities. 

This year the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform will pass laws and implement policies designed to undo the injustices of the past. “The instruments at the disposal of the department will be used,” said the department’s head of policy Hilton Toolo, who chaired the Rural Development National Policy Workshop in Boksburg on May 5 and 6. “We have a long way to go before the land in South Africa is equitably distributed.”

On March 20 this year, the department hosted a Land Reform Indaba. This gathering was an attempt to engage relevant stakeholders and to solicit input on the implementation of Agri-Parks, the Policy on Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land (50/50), the establishment of District Land Committees and Land Ceilings. Fifty pilot projects have been identified across provinces, and organised agriculture has been proactive in coming up with proposals.

According to Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti, the class of black commercial farmers was deliberately and systematically destroyed by the 1913 Natives Land Act. This destruction was reinforced by other subsequent pieces of legislation enacted by successive colonial and apartheid regimes.  

Set on undoing the past wrongs, the government’s land restitution policy of 1994 had the target of redistributing 30% of the 82 million hectares of agricultural land under white ownership to previously disadvantaged individuals by 2014, but meeting this target has proved to be challenging.  

It became clear that a multipronged approach was needed to speed up the pace of land reform and redistribution. As part of efforts toward healing the psychological wounds of forced removal and dispossession of land, the government re-opened the land claims process from July 2015 until 2019. The response thus far has been overwhelming. Nearly 56 000 claims have been lodged with the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights. 

 Agri-Parks, a new future

The rollout of Agri-Parks into 27 priority districts is set to change the rural landscape of South Africa and usher in economic transformation. The R2-billion initiative is a response to President Jacob Zuma’s nine-point plan for radical economic transformation and job creation.

The Agri-Parks will result in increased farming production, the development of smallholder farmers and agro-processing, and the marketing of produce to ensure the revival of black commercial farmers. 

“This is in line with our mission to decrease poverty and to create decent work and sustainable livelihoods in rural areas,” said Rural Development and Land Reform Director-General Mdu Shabane, adding that there was a direct link between Agri-Parks and the small town economic revitalisation programme. 

Agri-Parks facilitate and support the development of local agricultural economies that are community-driven, thus meeting basic human needs as its driver, ensuring on- and off-farm infrastructure development and contributing to the emergence of rural industrialists as well as credit financial sectors that are driven by small, micro and medium enterprise village markets.

The Agri-Parks will make use of existing state and communal land with agricultural potential. It will focus on creating equal access to markets for farmers within the various projects, favouring emerging farmers and cluster communities. This will foster the development of a class of black farmers who have technical expertise, ability to supply the market, sustainability, and at the desired market quality.

Over the next 10 years, Agri-Parks will encourage community development through profits reinvested in the community through an Investment Financing Facility. Emerging black farmers are encouraged to participate in supplying the Agri-Parks. Private commercial farmers are also urged to participate in Agri-Parks, as this will create lucrative investments. 

Agri-Parks form part of the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP), and the development of Agri-Villages. Ultimately, the implementation of Agri-Parks will lay the foundation for rural industrialisation. It is expected to test intergovernmental co-operation, said Shabane, as Agri-Parks cannot succeed without synergy in all three tiers of government. 

Land rights

At the Land Reform Indaba in March 2015 delegates from organised agriculture, farming communities, civil society organisations and government debated the 50/50 policy extensively. This proposal focuses on a joint ownership arrangement between farmers and farmworkers. 

Delegates all pledged their support for the policy, though many presented proposed variations. In terms of the policy, farmworkers will own up to 50% of the farms on which they work, while the historical owners will retain the other 50%. 

The allocation of ownership percentages to farmworkers will be determined by the number of years they have contributed to the development of the farm. Nkwinti says government wants workers to be co-owners who debate dividends, not wages. He believes that the 50/50 policy proposal will not only bring about stability within in the agricultural sector but will also improve food production and in turn ensure food security. 

Regulation of land holdings 

The Regulation of Land Holdings Framework includes a provision that will prohibit the ownership of agricultural land by foreign nationals. This was announced during the State of the Nation Address earlier this year.

In terms of the proposed legislation foreign nationals will however be allowed to hold agricultural land in long-term leasehold, for a minimum period of 30 years. This is to also ensure the country’s agricultural land remains in the hands of South Africans. This cap excludes residential property.

The setting of land ceilings at a maximum of 12 000 hectares will be implemented through the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which will be sent to Cabinet for approval later this year. 

The issue of land ceilings has been debated extensively, with some sections of the agricultural sector expressing reservations about the need for such limitation. Placing a limit on the amount of land that can be owned by an individual is aimed at ensuring wider and equitable distribution of the country’s land resources and to ensure no single individual or company owns vast tracts of agricultural land. 

In addition to this, the Land Holdings Bill will make provision to compulsory land holding disclosures and establishing an information database with regard to race, gender, nationality, size and use of land.

District Land Reform Committees 

District Land Reform Committees (DLRCs) were introduced to further enhance the implementation of land reform and growing the agriculture sector. The DLRCs will ensure dialogue with agricultural land stakeholders, the commercial farming sector, agriculture departments and the community to address challenges that slow down the pace and scale of land acquisition identification, costing and the optimal utilisation of land.  

The DLRCs will increase co-operation and partnership between all related stakeholders, thus contributing to the growth of the agricultural sector and skills development in the sector. “The DLRCs will level the ground for future generations. They seek to create land equity,” said the department’s chief director Bonginkosi Zulu. He said the DLRC are being established in all district municipalities around the country, and that gaps are currently being identified, such as the size of the committees.

The issue of how exactly these committees are to be composed was taken up hotly by several members of the audience at the Boksburg workshop. Khoisan representative on land issues Kaptein John Witbooi, for instance, complained at the indaba that his people were not consulted adequately on the formation of the DLRCs. Others said the committees could only work in urban areas, and were bound to fail in rural ones, due to the sheer size of the areas concerned. Calls were also made for 50/50 representation of women in the committees.

The government is confident that these initiatives, in partnership with the necessary departments, will speed up land reform and redistribution, thus benefiting many who were previously disadvantaged. Agricultural land ownership is one key to the reduction of poverty and unemployment in South Africa. “It’s not just about land, it’s about the creation of jobs,” said Toolo.

How a simple workshop can make a difference

Hilton Toolo, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s head of policy, who chaired the Rural Development National Policy Workshop in Boksburg on May 5 and 6, described the main gains of the workshop as follows: “It was mainly to inform people of where we are; and it was done in anticipation of the minister’s budget speech, to help us clarify issues when these matters are discussed, in any context.” 

He said the workshop also gave the department an opportunity to update on “issues that have arisen since the Land Tenure Summit held in September 2014, and in other interactions that we have had since”.

“What has come up is the need for more clarity on the role of traditional leaders, both in the policy being proposed for their area, and in processes of implementing the spatial planning and land redistribution act, as well as in the formulation of the district level committees.”

Other issues that came up on the first day were the inclusion of the youth in a more structured manner, to use state land to make opportunities for youth in agriculture, focussing on unemployed graduates; and for a similar working group for women, and other designated persons, for their voices to be heard.

Regarding the issue of providing infrastructure on land which has been awarded to beneficiaries, Toolo said: “Firstly, we must be able to provide the technical support and the markets for the farm produce, and provide market certainty.”

He said the department also would need to continue to strengthen the partnerships it has with organised agriculture, the mainstream white commercial farmers and black organisations like the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa to assist in this particular area.

“Thirdly, there are growing intergovernmental relations that are coming into place: we are in negotiations with the department of water affairs in terms of their national water policy review process, and how we could benefit beneficiaries of land reform; we might have a gap with the department of trade and industry, as they are sitting with R10-billion for supporting enterprise development; so, if we deepen our partnerships with these departments, and use our resources to catalyse rather than to do, hopefully we can allow them to come forward with resources that far exceed our own.”

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