Will blacks ever own land?

Instead of the option to buy at the end of the lease period, the land affairs department simply extends it, which means land reform farmers can’t own their own land, writes New on the Land editor Peter Mashala.

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The land affairs department has decided to scrap the option to buy for all land reform beneficiaries. Instead, should the farmer want to continue working the land, they extend the lease contract. And the extension isn’t guaranteed – the department can offer the land to someone else when the lease ends. Simply put, this means some blacks will never own land.

And land reform farmers will find it even more difficult to convince the banks to lend them money. The department says only farmers who have proven they can farm will have their leases extended. But how do you prove you can farm? What are the criteria?

Worse, you only have five years to do it. As anyone with half an understanding of farming will tell you, it takes much longer than five years to build a profitable farming enterprise. There’s more to making a farm profitable than just planting a few seeds and watering them. And those who have changed the lease agreement are the very ones who aren’t lifting a finger to help these guys with finance and improved access to markets.

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The commercial farms in this country have taken several generations to get to where they are now. And some still aren’t making money. The state gives poor folk who have been farming on 2ha of communal land, and who have just acquired a farm, only five years to be competitive, and profitable. Last year, under the stewardship of Lulu Xingwana, the land affairs department repossessed farms under their “use it or lose it” policy, because they felt the farms weren’t adequately used.

Veronica Moos was one of the victims. She was told to vacate the farm because, after a year, she only had 15 goats. The minister decided that wasn’t enough. She conveniently forgot that Veronica wasn’t even given post-settlement support. This shows how short-sighted the department is. The only way to make their lease policy work is to ensure land reform farmers get adequate support. Without finance and access to markets, it doesn’t matter how good a farmer you are – you won’t make it.