It is estimated that by the end of apartheid, about 60000 white settlers controlled 86% of South Africa’s farmland. This is about 82 million hectares.However black south African’s in rural areas constituting of 30% of the population held less than 15% of the farmland.The latter held their land under informal land tenure systems.Moreover, an estimated 5.3 million black South Africans have lived and worked on white commercial farms, generally without access to their farmland.

South Africa Land Reforms

Since 1994 South Africa embarked on a land reform program to redress over 300 years of historical land injustices, alleviating poverty and developing the rural economy.

The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) provided a set of guidelines and principles that gave direction to the initial process of formulating the land reform policy and programme.

A policy Framework by African National Congress 1994

The African National Congress, in 1994 set to transfer 30% of land owned by whites to the Africans in the first five years of the new democracy. (By 1999).

Particularly ,the constitution mandated the state to carry land reform and address the victims of racial discrimination. Land reforms have been addressed under three main categories, Land Restitution, Tenure reforms and Land Redistribution. Land Restitution sought to return historical land rights to people and communities who were dispossessed under racial based laws and practices. Redistribution aims to transfer formerly white-owned agricultural land to black South Africans.

Land Restitution was under the Restitution of Land Rights Act 1994

Restitution claims are legally against the state and not the past or present landowners . In addition relief can be provided in forms of financial benefit , alternative land or restoration of land under claim. A report by world Back points out of the 76,696 claims lodged by 31st December 1998, 60000 were urban-related claims and were settled by 2009. Majority of these claims were settled by cash compensation.

Restitution works for a specific group of people with legally enforceable rights. On the other hand, redistribution was to redress the imbalance created by the colonial governments on rural landholdings. Land redistribution has been controversial in South Africa. The ANC (Africa National Congress), initially advocated for land expropriation instead of market-based mechanism for land redistribution. However ‘willing buyer, willing seller concept of land reform was introduced. It granted the existing landowners great leverage on their land. Voluntary transactions at market-related prices was a foundation of South Africa’s land reform.

White Paper on South African Land Policy (DLA, 1997) introduced voluntary transactions of land at market prices . It outlined that, rather than become directly involved in land purchase for the land redistribution programme, government will provide grants and services to assist the needy with the purchase of land.

Interestingly the document had provisions of overcoming discrimination against women.It gave priorities to women and the marginalized!

White Paper on South African Land Policy April 1997

Through the Settlement/Land Acquisition Grant,1995-1999, households earning less than R 1500 could apply for R 16000  grant to purchase land. The grant was not sufficient for an individual to purchase land. To afford whole farms at market prices individual households opted to pool their monies together. Land subdivision was prohibited. The main challenge to this was that the beneficiaries lacked skills, capital and post-settlement support to utilize the land properly.

Aware of these challenges, Land Redistribution for  Agricultural  Development  (LRAD)program, replaced SLAG IN 2001. Rather  than focusing on rural poor, the program opted in promoting full time black commercial farmers. Poverty was excluded as a criterion for the beneficiary and ensured they contributed to the projects.

Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy, PLAS ,2006 was implemented to fasten the land acquisition process. Under this strategy, the government acquires land from willing seller and leases it for 3-5  years to selected beneficiaries. PLAS aimed to benefit people with limited land access,  commercial smallholders with the potential to expand, established black commercial farmers, and aspiring black commercial farmers with access to sufficient finance.

In fact ,882,238 hectares acquired between 2009-2012 have been transferred to 10,500 beneficiaries . However the short term nature of leases may challenge farmers from acquiring finances and other benefits of the project.

Vision 2030 and the National Development Plan

The plan emphasizes land reform as a tool to unlock the potential for a dynamic, growing and employment-creating agricultural sector . The plan basis land transfer on ensuring,

  1. Ensuring transfer of land to black beneficiaries without distorting land markets and upholding the agribusiness confidence
  2. Capacity building on agricultural sciences,
  3. Institutionalized land market regulations
  4. Bring land-transfer targets in line with fiscal and economic realities to ensure that land is successfully transferred.
 Current Situation

On his weekly review, President Cyril Ramaphosa on  05th October 2020  announced that broadening access to agricultural land for commercial production and subsistence farming is a national priority. Before his review the Department of Agriculture had on 1st October 2020 announced the release of 700000 ha of underutilized land for the public to acquire through 30year lease agreement.

South Africa ,Johannesburg Land parcels
South Africa ,Johannesburg

Additionally, the review explained that under the land reform programme between  1994 and March 2018 about 8.4 million hectares had been delivered to disadvantaged individuals . This is less than  10 % of commercial farmland. Besides, it was revealed that PLAS has had its success in promoting secure land rights for women farmers. Finally, looking in the future the program looks to prioritize women, youth and people with disabilities as beneficiaries.

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