No more landownership for black farmers

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR’s) decision to remove the option to buy from the standard lease contract between the state and land-reform beneficiaries has sparked concern within agricultural circles.

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Critics say it could mean black farmers can never own land. Prof Mohammed Karaan said by removing the option to buy, government is effectively nationalising land. “It’s land reform in reverse,” he said.
One can understand the DRDLR’s reasoning, he said, but the matter hasn’t been clearly thought through by the department. “The whole point is to change landownership,” he noted.But DRDLR deputy minister Joe Phaahla denied that it’s nationalisation. He said the state is only trying to prevent farms from being abandoned, and they also want to prevent land reform farms reverting to white ownership and so setting back the land reform process.

Beneficiaries use the farms as collateral to access loans, he explained. If they default on the loans, the farms are repossessed by the banks and sold to commercial farmers. Referring to the farms repossessed by the Land Bank last year, Phaahla said the department had to spend millions to stop the bank from auctioning the properties. As it now stands, the lease agreement only provides farmers an option to renew the lease. But there are no guarantees they’ll be able to continue farming on the land. This is because land is a very important asset and the department can’t take chances with it, said Phaahla. “Government is going to use this model in the way forward for land reform,” he added. “We’re not looking at selling the land to black farmers, at least not in the short term.” If blacks want to own land, they should buy private land with the profits they make from state land, he said.

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However, Prof Karaan said he couldn’t understand why black farmers should be paying for land in the case of land reform. It takes time for a farmer to pay for the farm and also make a profit, and mortgages should be extended up to 30 to 40 years to give farmers a better chance to survive, he said. “It’s necessary for government to hold the land in commonage, but they must have a mechanism to redistribute land at a later stage,” he said. “What they are doing now is creating a parallel land ownership. Why must black farmers lease land while whites own it?” Aggrey Mahanjana, National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation group manager, said they’d proposed to government that it come up with a plan to protect land from being sold by beneficiaries, but hadn’t said the clause in question should be scrapped. – Peter Mashala