Picture: 123RF/LOES KIEBOOM
Picture: 123RF/LOES KIEBOOM

The government must play a proactive role in its drawn-out land reform programme by releasing the 9-million hectares of land it owns to beneficiaries, says Wandile Sihlobo, a member of the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture.

Since 1994 industry stakeholders have made the mistake of thinking that land reform should only be released for agricultural use, “but there is space for land reform in residential and industrial areas”, he says.   

Sihlobo, who also sits on the presidential economic advisory panel and is the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) chief economist, made the remarks during the virtual launch of his book, Finding Common Ground, in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

In 1994, the government set a target of handing 30% of agricultural land to black recipients by 2014. However, the land reform programme has generally been tardy, creating uncertainty in the agricultural sector, with some landowners holding back on investing in their properties. Only about 7% of land has been handed to black recipients over the past 26 years.

Land reform proponents argue that the programme is important as it will lead to opening the sector to more participants and ensuring a stable and growing agricultural and rural economy.

The slow pace of land reform has resulted in growing calls for land expropriation without compensation, polarising the country and spooking investors.

In 2018, parliament agreed to establish a multiparty, ad hoc committee after it adopted a report of the constitutional review committee on the review of the property clause. The report recommended that parliament amend section 25 of the constitution, to allow for expropriation of land without compensation, as a means to address the skewed land ownership patterns dating back to the colonial era.

However, Sihlobo said expropriation without compensation was not suitable for SA because the agricultural sector in the country was a capital-intensive one. To grow the sector would require a lot of capital to flow into the industry.

He said there are about 9-million hectares of government land that could be given to people on long-term leases. There also needed to be “incubation houses” for land beneficiaries.

“The policy thinking has been about how we unite [these farmers] by lifting those in the lower end of the sector ... so that we all grow together and address issues of land reform.”

Sihlobo said that while there had been some resistance to land reform in the past, those against it were now realising that “we might begin to have a lot of disruption” in the sector if the issue was not addressed in its entirety.

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za