Land reform remains a hotly debated topic in South Africa and while every reasonable person should be able to see that it is necessary, the sad truth is that black farmers who get land from the government are often not successful.
If they are, it seems that they are then removed from the land, resulting in farmers suing the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development because rogue officials and cadres kicked them off their farms.
Is the government therefore capable of running land reform? Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager of agricultural development, natural resource and commercial activities at Free State Agriculture, says there are usually too many managers and too few workers involved in these projects.
“If these lines are blurred, the project will not succeed because there needs to be clearly defined ownership or shareholders and an incentive that rewards sweat equity. The best solution is still highly subsidised credit, which is also capped, to allow aspiring farmers to put some skin in the game to pay back a loan,” Armour says.
“Coupled to this there should also be a small amount of interest to incentivise them to pay back the loan and get the money back into the loan pool to help develop the next project or applicant.”
Armour says “illegal” occupiers of state land are the real farmers, while the state wants to place the land with cadres and those they owe political favours.
“There are BEE holders of water rights at Bloemhof Dam who have never farmed in their lives, but they are leasing the water rights to white commercial farmers and extracting rent of up to R500,000 a year. This is not just and equitable transformation, but elite capture.”
He says agricultural organisations conducted their own land audit in 2013 and have since been calling for the establishment of a live and up-to-date land audit and register that will go a long way to enable the state to know who is occupying what.
“In addition, an ID-referenced RDP house/erf register should be kept up to date. This, coupled with chiefs’ land allocations in traditional areas, will ensure records of customary ownership before further grants are given for new land and houses.”
Armour says he was baffled when the Free State department of housing demolished two-bedroom houses to upgrade them to three-bedroom houses under the guise of dignity, while millions still do not even have a plot of land to build a shack.
“Our national priority should be to make serviced plots available around every town and city that offers some form of decent work and to support real job creation initiatives and self-sufficiency, such as gardening or chicken and rabbit farming which could extend into market gardening and progression to smallholding to commercial farming.”
He says a novice or unemployed graduate should never be put in charge of a factory or industrial farm without any training and support.
Jeff Every, former executive director of Amadlelo Agri, that builds prosperous agribusinesses by offering exceptional operational capacity, extensive project management, proven skills development and significant resources as investors, agrees the government is unable to run land reform.
“The government can enable aspiring black farmers, but without private sector money it will not work. Without a title deed these farmers cannot obtain financing to upgrade infrastructure to the degree that the farm becomes commercially successful.
“It will help more if the government offered a mechanism for cheaper funding. We can prove that and we have done it. We can help black farmers become successful and duplicate them.”
Prof Johan Willemse, a well-known agricultural economist, also believes the government cannot manage land reform properly.
“They are not capable at all. Of the 4,500 commercial farms handed over as part of land reform, it seems that less than 1,000 are still operational. Now they want to appropriate land by taking farms out of production or throw new farmers who are successful off their farms.”