Communal land a policy headache

The issue of communal land tenure is heating up, with many stakeholders calling for legislative action.

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The issue of communal land tenure is heating up, with many stakeholders calling for legislative action. Annette Steyn, shadow deputy minister of rural development and land reform for the DA, said the party is pushing parliament to develop a policy around communal land.

“There are currently 30 million hectares of communal land in South Africa and this is largely unproductive. If we want to reduce poverty, then this land must come into production.”

Neels Ferreira, chairperson of Agri SA’s Commodity Chamber, added that 500 000 jobs will be created if communal land is farmed productively.

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Steyn continued, “There are many cases where men have died and their wives had to move because tradition in communal areas dictates that a woman can’t own land. These women then lose everything they have. The same happens when a person loses favour with the chief who governs the land. Communal land must be measured and titles must be awarded to individuals for security.”

Aggrey Mahanjana, managing director of the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, added that it also received many complaints about traditional leaders who sell communal land to outsiders who then disrupt the land activities.

“Government needs to sort out who owns communal land. At this stage the land is occupied by whoever wants it and results in the land becoming unproductive. Land can’t be a free-for-all because then South Africa will have very serious problems.” Dr Theo de Jager, deputy president of Agri SA, said that in his experience the biggest issue among black farmers is that they have to rent their land from the government and they still don’t own their farms.

“There are 22 million people in South Africa who live a traditional way of life. Whatever decision the government eventually makes with regards to communal land, it will have a big impact on South Africa,” said De Jager. Prof Steven Friedman, political analyst from the University of Johannesburg said, “Having communal land ensures that the chief stays in control. People residing on communal land can’t use the land the way they want to as everything is dictated by the traditional leader. All their independence is taken away. Government must engage with all the stakeholders and develop a coherent policy on communal land to solve these issues.”

Rural development and land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti admitted that communal land is a source of huge frustration for the department and is even more controversial than land reform. “These problems will not be solved overnight,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prof Friedman warned that dismantling the communal land system could have negative consequences for society and disrupt a way of life that has been in place for years.

Mahanjana concluded that only once government knows who the land belongs to, can it be managed. “It doesn’t matter who owns the land, as long as it is used productively.” – Lindi van Rooyen