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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Land reform: Three decades squandered

An estimated 2.3 million people benefitted from restitution, with R25bn spent on the purchase and transfer of 3.9 million hectares of land.

Amid widespread acknowledgement that the country’s land reform has largely failed to benefit previously dispossessed South Africans, a leading expert on restitution said yesterday it was no understatement that three decades of democracy were squandered through lack of restorative justice and the land restitution programme.

Prof Siona O’Connell, an African studies scholar at the University of Pretoria, was commenting on the launch this week by Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza of study findings on the evaluation of the land restitution programme.

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It was conducted in partnership with the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town and the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation.

Didiza conceded that Zebediela and Livubu – once SA’s citrus jewel in Limpopo – was “part of the failures of some land claims”.

She blamed lack of community cohesion, saying villagers failed “to take up aspects of what they have received and utilise it to their benefit”.

An estimated 2.3 million people benefitted from the restitution, with R25 billion spent on the purchase and transfer of 3.9 million hectares of land.

An additional R22.5 billion was spent on financial compensation for beneficiaries who preferred money.

“The settlement of the restitution claims significantly reduced the risk of depression by up to 0.15 standard deviation score, with the level of trauma diminishing by a 15% rate,” said the study.

O’Connell said land and opportunity lay “at the heart of the South African condition – a deeply unequal country, caught in the crosshairs of state capture, political and personal opportunism”.

“I don’t believe it is an understatement to say that three decades have been squandered, regarding restorative justice and the land restitution programme.

“In 1996, Elandskloof near Citrusdal in the Western Cape hit news headlines as the first successful land claim in a democratic South Africa,” she said.

“Seventy-six families returned in a ceremony presided over by a jubilant then minister of agriculture and land affairs Derek Hanekom. However, over coming decades, contradictions in a deeply flawed restitution process came to the fore.

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“These included land without the capital to develop it, a group of claimants removed from a meaningful relationship with the business of rural livelihoods.

“People continued to carry scars of the struggle for survival under apartheid. In 2005, the Elandskloof Communal Property Association (CPA) was placed under administration. Today it is an impoverished rural ghetto,” said O’Connell.

“One would think that 28 years after this claim was settled, the government would evaluate it closely to see what worked.

“The government failed to do so and we missed out on an opportunity for a longitudinal study that would have informed the ongoing restitution programme.

“It would have thrown the spotlight on the challenges of CPAs. It would have underscored that without parallel processes that work through intergenerational trauma, cohesion and loss, restitution is doomed to fail.

“In many instances, families are torn apart, doing battle over how cash settlements are allocated. Those who have settled – often for a paltry amount – speak of unbelonging and sadness, displaced in another way.

“I struggle to reconcile the optimism in that report with the realities on the ground.”

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