Black land ownership could be over 30% already

A lack of definitive data on progress in government’s land restitution programme has made calculating land transfers from white to black farmers a guessing game.

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Government estimates that 5% to 6% of white-owned commercial farm land has been transferred. However, this figure could be significantly higher.

As far back as 2001, an independent demographic report compiled for the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) found that blacks owned 247 588km² (20,2%) of the total land, Asians owned 12 651km² (1,03%), coloureds owned 114 827km² (9,37%), while the state owned 31 0492km² (25,33%). Whites owned 540 326km² (44,08%) of the total land.

Bennie van Zyl, Transvaal Agriculture Union (TAU) general manager, suggested a more accurate figure of black ownership could be reached by combining the 2001 figure with land transferred after 2001. If land held by Asians and coloureds is included to give a “generic” black figure, as well as the 25% held by the state, a significantly higher percentage could already be in black hands.

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TAU deputy general manager Chris van Zyl put the figure at around 60%, with whites owning the remainder.
“The point is, government is inclined to say whites own 83% of the land, but back in 2001 it was already established that they owned less than half that.

“Nowhere do government figures give an indication of the size of land that has been transferred. We need up-to-date feedback on land that has been transferred through restitution as well as voluntary sales.”
A 2009 DBSA report entitled “The economic performance of agriculture in South Africa since 1994: implications for food security”, said efforts to speed up land reform had a limited affect.

“After almost 15 years of state-sponsored land reform processes, slightly more than 4 million hectares of available agricultural land in South Africa have been transferred through the formal programme,” said the report’s authors, Nick Vink and Johan van Rooyen. “Government recently admitted that the failure rate of land reform projects could be as high as 50%. Empirical evidence shows that private transfers, some funded by mortgages by the Land Bank or the commercial banks, have occurred at a higher rate than state transfers.”

One of the best examples of small farmer success in South Africa was the emergence of 20 000 small-scale canegrowers in the sugar industry, added the report. Here the total area under cane owned by black growers is 29,5%, and 22% of sugarcane production is in black hands.

Kathy Hurly, Canegrowers’ director of regional services, said 52% of land under cane is still under claim. “Once that is transferred, the industry will far surpass government’s land transfer expectations,” she said.

She said Kwanalu was compiling a land audit, and by the end of the year agriculture would know exactly where it stood in terms of land transfers.

For TAU’s Bennie van Zyl, though, the big question shouldn’t be about the targets for land transfer, but rather what will be done with the available land.

“Focusing on the outcome of production and not on ownership will help us to better address the food security issue,” he explained.

As the single biggest land-owning entity in the country, government should also be using their land to enable agriculture within disadvantaged groups, he added.