The voice of agriculture . Die stem van landbou . Izwe lezokulima

How state ignored research on land reform

‘Frightening to see how every possible thing that we argued could go wrong, did’ — Stellenbosch University’s director of the Bureau for Economic Research, Prof Johann Kirsten

01 December 2017 – 05:47 Neels Blom

Kirsten is a leading expert in land reform in SA, having been involved in research and planning in the government and as an academic.

He said the recommendations he and senior colleagues made in the 1990s had been completely ignored. “More than 20 years after that research and write-up [1996] it is quite frightening to see how every possible thing that we argued could go wrong, did.”

SA’s land-reform programme is widely regarded, and acknowledged by the government, as having failed, with up to 90% of beneficiaries unable to produce a commercially viable surplus. About R69bn (in real terms) had been spent on the acquisition of 7-million hectares of land, which in 2015 figures was nearly the total value of SA’s agricultural land at R71bn.

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti put the figure at R33bn in nominal terms. The land reform target is about 26-million hectares.

Nkwinti told Parliament in August that the biggest land-reform challenge was still about ownership. The government’s recent incomplete cadastral survey is inconclusive, as is a survey conducted by agri- business organisation Agri SA.

The government has also blamed much of the failure on the willing buyer, willing seller principle, which it intended to circumvent via the expropriation bill. The bill proposes to change a key phrase allowing land expropriation from “public purpose” to “public interest” so as to include land reform.

President Jacob Zuma has not yet signed the bill into law.

The lack of reliable data further bedevils the land use application in agricultural land reform. Kirsten said much time and effort was being wasted on design and redesign without any appreciation of the productive value of farmland and the realities of farming in SA.

“It has also not been understood that the dominant form of South African commercial farming is family farms — single-owner operations with family and hired labour. The large corporate-style farms make up only a small component of agriculture in SA — only about 700 farm businesses.

“These farms have the capacity and are in a financial position to contribute to the land reform process. [Most] other commercial farms are family trusts, private companies and mostly single proprietors.

“There are no shares, no share values and no business net worth that can be shared  50-50,” he said.