South Africa way behind on land ownership

28 Nov 2017 - 14:00

Land is a highly charged and politicised issue all over the world. South Africa, with its history of extreme dispossession through colonialism and apartheid, is no exception.

The democratic government has tried to redistribute land to address this legacy of dispossession. But, according to government, only around 10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed or restored to black South Africans in the 23 years since formal apartheid ended. Many are angry at the failure of land reform and there are increasing calls for land to be returned to black South Africans.

But there is very little clarity as to who owns what land in the country. This is why a recent report released by Agri-SA, an organisation that represents the majority of South Africa’s white commercial farmers, has proved so controversial.

The report looks at the changing patterns of land ownership. The key question it purports to answer is the degree to which racially unequal patterns of land ownership have been altered through a combination of land reform and private land purchases by black South Africans.

Agri-SA argues that the initial government target of transferring 30% of agricultural land via land reform has almost been met. On the back of this it argues that the market is much more effective than the state as a vehicle for change.

But these claims are not borne out by Agri-SA’s own data. Even though the data in the report appears to have been rigorously collected and analysed, its interpretation by Agri-SA is flawed. We believe that many of the report’s core arguments are inaccurate and misleading.

It’s also clear that, contrary to the AgriSA report, we are nowhere near to hitting targets set by the government in 1994. Black South Africans remain in the minority among landowners.

Transformation simply has not happened.