Small-scale farmers from the Western and Northern Cape provinces in South Africa marched to Parliament on Friday in protest against government’s “sluggish” land reform programme.
Chanting pro-Zuma slogans, the more than 200 protesters accused government of turning a deaf ear to their grievances, that included land deprivation and lack of state support, reports say.
Waving a placard with a “bring back my land” message, secretary of
Cederberg Emerging Farmers Forum, Hendrik Janse said government had failed to respond to challenges faced by previously disadvantaged farmers. “We have been raising these concerns about lack of infrastructure and finance since the early 90s but up to now there has been no response from government.
“When land affairs officials come to speak to the people they only address them in English and yet almost all the small farmers in our areas do not understand the language,” he told the media there.
Small farmers were also frustrated by the government’s “sluggish” land
reform programme. Spokesperson of the Northern Cape small farmers Daniel Engelbreit said most of the programmes put in place by government to support previously disadvantaged farmers had collapsed due to either corruption or lack of interest from land affairs officials.
“Irrigation and other support programmes meant to assist small farmers
collapse within a few months and nothing is being done to revive them,” he said.
“The fact that these small scale farmers, who hardly have any money,
travelled all the way from the Northern Cape to come and participate in this march demonstrates the extent of their desperation,” he said in
Reports say accepting the memorandum on behalf of Land Affairs Minister Lulu Xingwana, Chief Director in the Western Cape Provincial Land Reform office, Terance Fife said the department viewed the farmers’ grievances as critical, and that he would immediately convey them to the minister. “These are very critical issues and we can not afford to ignore them,” he said.
A report released this week claims that the sluggish land reforms are
paralysing nearly half of its sugar and timber sectors and new black farmers are the hardest hit.
“South Africa’s reputation as a competitive agricultural producer is on the
line,” said a study by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), a policy think tank. “The economic viability of many rural regions of the country is under threat, which could lead to serious negative consequences for the broader economy and society,” said CDE executive director Ann Bernstein. “All this is happening in the midst of a global rise in food and commodity prices. South Africa is not only losing out on important new opportunities but starting to undermine its competitiveness and capacity in the agricultural sector,” she added.
The last phase of land restitution, which dealt with rural claims, has seen
large swathes of productive land placed under claim and “therefore
effectively frozen for years to come”, the report said.
It quoted statistics from the SA Cane Growers Association which showed that 50% of all sugar land was under claim with only four percent settled, nearly half of timber land owned by Mondi was under claim and at least 17.5% of Sappi’s land was under claim.
The land redistribution process was too slow to meet the government’s target that 30% of commercial agricultural land be owned by blacks by 2014. Between 2004 and 2007, state redistribution of white-owned land increased by less than half a percent from 4.3% to 4.7%.
The study said South Africa was looking at two likely trajectories – “nobody wins” and “everybody loses”. “Neither of these is desirable and both threaten agricultural production, investor confidence, race relations and the prospects for South Africa’s rural poor.”
However, the good news was that the transition of land into black hands was increasing, according to the CDE’s own research. “CDE estimates that the true extent of land transferred from white to black ownership is now close to 6.8% of commercial agricultural land. This means that an area equivalent to 40% of the land transferred by the state has been bought by blacks in the open market – and this is probably an underestimate,” the report said.
Black land ownership is the highest in KwaDukuza in KwaZulu-Natal, where black farmers now own 32% of land, while the Eastern Cape regions of Elliot and Ugie enjoy black ownership of close to 30%. In the Free State, between 12% and 20% of land is owned by blacks in certain areas.