The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) doesn’t believe there’s a demand for land reform outside of populist politics. “In our view it doesn’t exist,” said Frans Cronje, deputy CEO of the SAIRR. “The goal of the average person is a middle-class, urbanised lifestyle. I’m confident that if we were to do a field survey on land reform we would find that the policy has no support.”
Cronje challenged anyone to find him 10 examples of where people invaded land because they wanted to farm. He said South Africans protest “at the drop of a hat”. But while there are thousands of protests for service delivery, there have been none involving people protesting because they don’t have land to farm.
But Mike Mlengana, president of the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) disagreed. “There’s a huge demand for land on which to produce food. This is evident in the long waiting list for land at the land reform department and the high demand for agricultural financing.” He said white South Africans mustn’t assume that blacks don’t want to farm – after all, farming has always formed the basis of their existence.
SAIRR researcher Kerwin Lebone acknowledged there is a demand for land, but pointed out it’s ‘urban’. Pointing to the land grabs that took place in Broederstroom, Gauteng, he said: “This was about wanting land for housing so that the occupants could be closer to work. It had nothing to do with wanting land to farm.” Mlengana responded by saying claims that black South Africans only want land for housing purposes is a ‘half truth’. “There are those who want land on which to build houses but there are also a lot of people who want to farm,” he said.
Prof Ben Cousins, from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), said that although there’s a demand for land, those wanting to farm comprise a sizeable minority. “We found that between 20% to 40% of rural communities want to engage in small-scale agriculture. While one can’t assume that everyone wants land for the same purpose, there is evidence of a demand for farm land.”
There are many examples of people who have received land through a land claim and are serious about farming. “In some instances they’re selling their crops for profit, while others are growing food for household use.” Mtobeli Mxotwa, spokesperson for rural development minister Gugile Nkwinti, said those who get their land back don’t have to farm if they don’t want to. “Life changes and people don’t want to be subsistence farmers forever,” said Mxotwa. But while some claimants are using the land for “entrepreneurial reasons other than farming”, the “majority want to farm.”
Mxotwa said that it is an insult to black South Africans to say that they don’t want to farm after they were chased off land that was productive. “The SAIRR is trying to de-legitimise claims to access land. There’s a huge demand for land on which to farm.” However, Cronje suggests that government should rather focus on putting strong commercial black farmers on the land if it wants to change the demographics of farming in South Africa.