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Monday Apr 02, 2012

Land reform: the facts, the unsure future

Some 100 members of the Western Cape Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa (IEASA) recently attended a talk by Professor Henk Delport, an expert on property legislation, who gave a comprehensive but very balanced view of SA'S land reform process as set out in the Green Paper now in the public arena for discussion.

Dianne Brock, general manager of this branch of the IEASA, says Professor Delport made it clear that although the vast majority of black people see the current land distribution as totally inequitable (87 percent of non-state-owned SA is in white hands, and only 13 percent under black ownership), the envisaged reform programme should not be seen as a land grab.

Furthermore, although some black community members are against it, the ANC is sticking to the willing buyer/ willing seller principle.

"However, the land reform programme policy has been largely ineffectual: by 2009 only 6.9 percent of South Africa's agricultural land had been transferred to black ownership even though buyers had state support. On the other hand, 79.6 percent of urban land claims had been successfully settled by 2009."

Brock said Delport had shown that, after the AngloBoer War, black ownership of rural land had increased markedly as whites' property had been destroyed by the scorched earth policy.

Then, under the previous government, 3.5 million people, mostly black, had their properties taken from them by the Group Areas Act and were transferred to the new homelands. This, said Delport, had resulted in severe overcrowding of these all-black territories while the often despotic control by the local chiefs usually resulted in women, who were and still are the majority of rural farmers, not becoming property owners.

The lack of capital and poor farming methods had caused massive degradation and soil erosion in these formerly productive agricultural areas.

"Professor Delport made it clear that this was a catastrophe for SA agriculture because only 3 percent of South Africa's farmland can be described as having high potential yields and almost half (on the western side) cannot support crop production. Today, 46 percent of the SA population live in these rural areas and 70 percent of these people are now living below the poverty line."

Delport said the land restitution process operated partially through legal land restitutions: if you could prove that you or your ancestors lived there as owners, you could submit a claim. Where the situation became tricky was where farm workers had, often over many generations, been allocated plots on white farms. Moreover, claims could take years to reach the courts.

Delport also reported that where land, with the help of the state, had been bought back from white farmers, it had frequently not been productively farmed by the new owners, who often moved off or sold it at a low price, sometimes to the white farmer it had been taken from. Critics have blamed the government for a lack of capital support and training in many such cases.

"Those interested in the future of rural property in SA will have to keep a close eye on and become involved in the current land reform debate, the outcome of which is by no means known as yet, especially as some of the clauses in the Green Paper are ambiguously worded, leaving room for a variety of interpretations."

Call Dianne Brock on 021 5313180 or email di@cape. ieasa.org.za.

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