Land reform will remain a hot topic

Land reform in South Africa has and will continue to be a contentious topic. In resolving the inequalities of the past, the SA government undertook in 1994 to make sure landownership was more reflective of the demographics of the population.

- Advertisement -

The promise was to return land to the black and coloured people that had been taken away from them as a result of the 1913 Native Land Act, the 1950 Group Areas Act and other similar legislation during apartheid. The infamous 1913 Native Land Act restricted 80% of the SA population to 13% of the land based on race. Black Africans were restricted to small areas while the white minority was left in control of the remaining 87%.

After the first democratic elections in 1994, the government embarked on a land reform process involving land restitution, land redistribution and rural development. In correcting the wrongs of the past, the land redistribution policies sought to return land to those dispossessed of it through the 1913 Land Act. The 1994 Land Restitution Act was based on the ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller’ concept and land was to be bought from landowners, by the government, and then given back to those who were dispossessed by the 1913 act.

Unfortunately, the process has taken very long and encountered many problems. Another budget has come and gone. Now it is up to public servants to make sure that these figures are turned into services that will benefit the people of this country. Rural development and land reform received an increase of just 5%, to R9,46 billion, but the estimates of expenditure on the various elements seem to indicate a new line of thinking in the department.

- Advertisement -

The allocation for land reform has been hiked 3%, to R3,4 billion, in contrast to a 14% increase, to R3,4 billion, in funds for restitution and an 18% rise, to R1,2 billion, for rural development. The allocation for administration has been reduced significantly, as has that for geospatial and cadastral services, by 15% to R508 million. These funds need to be used to settle outstanding land restitution claims and to acquire additional land to speed up land reform and recapitalise and develop the increasing number of distressed farms.

Using this budget wisely in this global financial crisis indicates a sensible maturation in attitude to the plight of land reform beneficiaries who struggle to access the finance necessary for developing their acquired land. This calls for a collective approach to rural development and land reform. There cannot be permanent stability if the land is not shared equitably among all South Africans. SA agriculture cannot be prosperous if commercial farmers are surrounded by poor people – hence the need to deal collectively with issues of transformation in agriculture.