Land reform captured by the elite

 

 

The redistribution of farmland tends to favour the elite, according to a recently released report by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas).

The researchers, who investigated 62 state land lease and disposal policy (SLLDP) projects, found that 44% of these farms were allocated to wealthy beneficiaries.

Only 18% of the farms were allocated to farmworkers.

Through the SLLDP — which is aimed at broadening access to land — government buys farms and appoints beneficiaries or lessees to make them productive and self-sustainable.

Earlier this year, the Mail & Guardian published a series of reports emanating from a four-year investigation by SABC current affairs programme Special Assignment into allegedly rampant corruption in land reform projects.

The investigation put former minister of rural development Gugile Nkwinti at the centre of some of the elite’s capture of land reform. Nkwinti did not respond to requests for comment at the time that the allegations were published.

According to the investigation, politically connected individuals and companies have exploited the system by “farm flipping” — buying farms in distress at low prices, selling them to government at heavily inflated prices and returning to the farm as strategic partners to further profit. This allegedly often happens at the expense of the intended beneficiaries of agricultural land reform.

In the process, beneficiaries merely become fronts for agribusinesses making profits.

The Plaas report reads: “The pursuit of profits has seen some strategic partners only using the land reform as a conduit to access cheap labour and indirectly benefit from subsidised production support from the state.”

It concludes that policy biases favour “the large-scale commercial farming model and by implication beneficiaries with sufficient resources to sustain this type of farming”.

These biases are inevitably exclusionary towards farmworkers, who do not have access to the resources needed for this type of farming.

Besides policy biases, state officials and agribusinesses capture public resources in land reform through various forms of corruption, the report reads. These include the solicitation of bribes, fronting, withholding leases, threats of eviction and bailing out politically connected people.

The report argues that there is a need to shift the “class agenda” of land reform and to promote a more inclusive land redistribution programme that prioritises farmworkers, labour tenants, and communal area farmers.

It recommends that “rigorous monitoring and evaluation instruments” be developed to monitor the land reform delivery process.

The report further contends that the public debate on land expropriation without compensation “should simultaneously consider key questions in relation to equitable access to land”.

This week Parliament received the first draft of the legislation to amend section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

But, the Plaas report indicates, “expropriation of land without compensation is not a universal panacea to the challenges that characterise land reform in South Africa”.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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