Returning land is a big deal in South Africa. The rhetoric that surrounds it resonates with millions of people and while land without compensation has long been on the Economic Freedom Fighters’ hymn sheet, it’s being sung in some corners of the African National Congress, too.
However, Rapport reported over the weekend that government owns 4 323 farming units, which include smallholdings and bigger farms, all waiting to be transferred. This according to Roelf Meyer, former politician and director of non-profit organisation In Transformation Initiative (ITI).
The Land Claims Commissioner says the delay is because of disputes among land claimants.
Nomfundo Gobodo, chief land claims commissioner, meanwhile told Rapport that the department cannot be held responsible for the transfer of the title deeds. Gobodo said that “tribes who are beneficiaries start disputing ownership amongst themselves once a claim has been concluded”.
If there is a dispute and a legal process is started, the department cannot transfer title deeds.
Last week, Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald told parliament that a mere one in ten title deeds bought for land reform had actually been transferred.
“The state owns this land. Why doesn’t government transfer this land to their new owners? It’s not done because it fits the ANC’s political agenda,” Groenewald said.
According to a recent study, black South Africans constitute 79 percent of the population, but directly own only 1.2 percent of the country’s rural land (although Zululand is all in the King’s name where some 20 Million blacks live). Meanwhile, white South Africans, who constitute 9 percent of the country’s population, directly own 23.6 percent of its rural land, and 11.4 percent of land in towns and cities, according to the Land Audit report.
A similar program of land redistribution was carried out by then-Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thousands of white farmers were forced from their lands.
However, food production plummeted without the experienced farmers’ contribution, and Zimbabwe’s economy suffered massively. In 2010, the Guardian reported that Mugabe used land reform to reward his allies rather than ordinary black Zimbabweans. In 2016, Mugabe signed a decree that foreign companies would face closure unless they sold or gave up 51 percent of their shares.
Speaking about the redistribution of land in his country, Ramaphosa said that “in dealing with this complex matter” South Africa would not “make the mistakes that others have made.”