LETTER: Farmland plan keeps the state as the land owner
Land redistributed through the plan would remain in the hands of the state — as it does now — for three decades
The government’s plan to allocate 700,000ha of farmland in its possession is to be cautiously welcomed — but must be understood properly.
State holdings are a logical source of land for redistribution, and should, in principle, provide an opportunity to expand the farming economy without undermining what already exists. Indeed, the plan seems to contain at least a nod to the importance of making these farms commercially viable by prioritising applicants with some farming experience and by requiring compulsory training.
On the other hand, much that has been problematic in the past remains. The state remains at the centre of the strategy. Land redistributed through this plan would remain in the hands of the state — as it does now — for three decades, with an option to purchase. In other words, beneficiaries would remain state tenants; they would not become property owners.
This reflects the government’s position in the David Rakgase case, when it declared that “black farming households and communities” should have leases, rather than ownership.
This raises concerns about how funding will be secured without being able to present the land as collateral, with Land Bank in crisis and the state’s coffers bare. Beneficiaries would also have to account to state officials for their operations and the stewardship of what will remain state property. Yet the land reform bureaucracy has hardly shown itself to be a model of efficiency and expertise, and many officials lack experience in farming; this could well lay crippling administrative difficulties on the beneficiaries.
Taken together, this is a step in the right direction, but those who should benefit from it are likely to confront some real difficulties. A clear, rapid path to ownership, a proper plan for funding, and a clean, competent administration will be essential for such a scheme to work.
Institute of Race Relations
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