Mail & Guardian

The challenges of successful land reform

08 Jun 2006 15:02 | Yolandi Groenewald

The day Suraya Cassiem first visited the flower farm that she and her family would shortly start cultivating, her neighbour told her that "the Langkloof is a hard country. I have seen people arrive in a Rolls Royce and leave without shoes." She simply told him: "Sir, we arrive without shoes, but we will leave in a Rolls Royce."

Cassiem and her family now successfully run their business, African Flower Trust -- one of seven land-reform case studies undertaken by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung researchers Bertus de Villiers and Marilize van der Berg. Unlike other land-reform doomsday prophets, the two researchers wanted to tell South Africans that not all such projects have collapsed.

The case studies were the Zebediela citrus estate, Makuleke National Park, Giba banana plantations, Stentor sugar-cane estate, Coromandel diary, Winola winery and African Flower Trust.

The researchers' report on these seven land-reform successes, released this week, says land reform can be successful, but it requires careful planning, post-transfer assistance, debt relief and an interest holiday. Most of all, it requires good old elbow grease and determination from the communities involved.

Communities also cannot depend on the government too heavily. Cassiem's family acquired their farm and business through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) grant and a Land Bank loan. De Villiers describes their story as one "of hope, vasbyt [endurance], survival, dedication and a will to succeed".

In most of the case studies, some difficulty with government aid was experienced, whether it was grants taking too long to be paid out or a lack of post-government support.

Cassiem says that even though her family received grants, the process took so long that they had to use their own funds to keep the farm going. For communities that might not have a back-up plan, this could be lethal.

De Villiers says sound and effective intergovernmental cooperation between national, provincial and local government in the lead-up to the transfer and the process thereafter is essential. "Care must be taken that the provincial authorities are involved throughout the process leading to handover to enable them to continue to work with the beneficiaries after the handover."

In another community, the banana-producing Gibas received their 1 645ha farm through restitution at a cost of R29-million. Apart from its commercial farm activities, this Mpumalanga community, farming near Hazyview, has also decided to allow subsistence farming.

But the community is disappointed with the lack of close practical involvement of government departments since the land transfer. It says the government has not provided enough support after settlement, and that the assistance provided takes too long to materialise. The report quotes a community member saying "the government handed back our land, but then they disappeared".

At the Winola Park vinery, community members also feel disillusioned by the government. The delay in the transfer of their Land Bank loan and grants has nearly cost them the farm. They feel the government abandoned them after the transfer of land.

The report says government departments, particularly the national and provincial departments of agriculture, must coordinate their funding cycle with the business cycle of a new venture.

It says delayed funding has caused land to be unprepared for planting of crops, crops not being harvested in time, crops being planted with insufficient preparation of the soil and orchards not being maintained to their optimum.

"Although the farms can become an important provider of employment, it is accepted that only a relatively small percentage of beneficiaries would ultimately be employed a farm workers," De Villiers says. "The challenge is therefore to create alternative opportunities whereby beneficiaries can use their land as a springboard for subsistence farming and other enterprises."

The two researchers list a number of lessons other communities can learn from the seven farms. De Villiers says the real challenge for land reform only starts after the handover of the land. "Before handover the focus is usually on technical and legal issues, but after transfer, issues regarding sustainability, expectations, training, education, debt relief, housing, welfare, security, unemployment, distribution of benefits and a range of other matters become important."

The report also calls for a realistic business plan, and says the duration between lodgement of the claim and the final settlement must be as short as possible, while the disruption of normal farming operations must be minimal.

New land owners should also understand that it might take some time before a project returns actual profits. It is also ideal for a small community bound by family ties, shared history or shared values to acquire land. Larger communities are more complex to manage and their interests may be diverse. De Villiers says it is also important to give regular and detailed updates to beneficiaries, and that problems should not be swept under the carpet.

View the original online publication here