25 years since the end of apartheid in South Africa and the election of Nelson Mandela, its first black president, many black South Africans still live in structural poverty. Unemployments are some of the highest in the world and access to education is severely limited. Problems which got worse during the 9 year kleptocracy of Jacob Zuma.
Whites in South Africa who make up 20% of the population, control 70% of South Africa’s land. These lands were mostly expropriated from their previous owners, blacks, to whites without any compensation. The blacks then became a pool of cheap field and house labor for whites over decades. Many black South Africans now see land reform as a means to establishing self-determination.
The African National Congress had promised a 10% transfer of white-owned farms to blacks by 1999. Barely 10% of land has been transferred and 70% of the transferred land lies fallow. The ANC never provided the necessary education and financial support to help the new farm owners. This has led to many calling the land expropriation policy misguided.
Land transfer has so far been achieved through a process known as “willing seller, willing buyer,” whereby the state acquires the land from white farm owners through an offer, price agreement followed by a deed transfer. The land is then redistributed to black individuals.
The new South African government under pressure from leftists for the slow land transfer process and with upcoming elections wants to hasten the process by redistributing land that was seized from blacks without compensating the white farmers.
Many white South Africans claim property rights will be in jeopardy if there’s expropriation of land to blacks without a fair compensation. The claim is worth considering given that some might be new immigrants or just individuals who unknowingly and legally bought expropriated lands, but now stand to lose them solely because they are white.
Others say the new land reform policy of no compensation to whites are no different from what happened in Zimbabwe. The deposed leader of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, rewarded his supporters during elections with land expropriated from white farmers. These were often large commercial farms and the new owners had little to no experience in running them.
As a result, economic productivity declined significantly and combined with crippling sanctions from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and their allies sent the Zimbabwean economy into a tailspin. Inflation rose by more than 1000%, unemployment rates skyrocketed and many Zimbabweans found themselves as refugees in neighboring South Africa.
South Africa has probably learned from the failed land reform policies of Robert Mugabe.
Many South Africans find it hard to believe that after these many years since apartheid, they still find themselves stuck in structural poverty. They continue to fume on why they are still a source of cheap labour when they could be making a living out of the lands they previously owned.
While land redistribution can provide a sudden financial boost to blacks whose farms were seized, the burden need not be borne by just white farmers. A more comprehensive approach where capable black farmers get an ownership stake in currently run commercial farms would be less dramatic. It ensures the farms do not go fallow, they gain necessary skills in running commercial farms and it does not deprive the former owners of sustenance. This helps build a more inclusive society.
One sin should not be a reason for another sin. If the original sin was land grab, then land grab should not be implemented just for the sake of it.
South Africa still faces many problems that grew from it’s apartheid rule. Despite the efforts of many, the best schools are still within rich neighborhoods. Poorer areas inhabited by mainly blacks are destitute. Ramshackled homes and schools are dotted everywhere.
Blacks in South Africa hold that a land transfer from white farmers to blacks will provide them with the means to apply for loans, mortgages and to build a home. A troubling trend which the government says it wants to prevent is the fact that, a good number of blacks who have been given land in turn sell the land back to the white farmers.
This in itself explains why land reform for the sake of land reform is a poor approach to economic empowerment for blacks in South Africa. If people turn around and sell the land, perhaps land was never the solution they needed. The government should engage in land reform only if it maintains or increases total productivity.
It would be a strategic blonder if South Africans consider land ownership as the main element for emancipation and self-determination. While owning a land is important, technological advancements have rendered economic productivity from land such a miniscule factor in the economic productivity of many developed countries. Agricultural production in the US for example contributes only about a percentage point to its GDP
It would be more important for black South Africans to view gaining important skills in emerging industries at the forefront of technology as the bedrock of self-determination instead of sticking to the old idea of land possession. Owning just land still puts them into the cheapest form of labor which they so dislike. This is perhaps what the government needs to invest more in, making a robust education more affordable to its blacks.
There is certainly no good way to take land from one person and give it to another. After these many years of reconciliation since the apartheid days, it would appear a fairer approach would be to embark on co-ownerships of land.
These are all South Africans, black or white. It is their civic responsibility to continue promoting the spirit of reconciliation from the Nelson Mandela days.
By engaging in partnerships and actively developing the welfare of blacks and whites, the country gains a competitive advantage globally.
The government also has the less controversial option of taxing owners of seized lands more and use that money to finance projects in communities still struggling to rise from the structural effects of apartheid.
President Ramaphosa, an accomplished businessman and politician who fought with Nelson Mandela against the apartheid regime of South Africa is well aware of the effects of land transfer and knows how things can get toxic pretty quickly given the racial undertones that run in South Africa.
The government has embarked on a media campaign to promote its expropriation plans. As expected, there is a lot of push back from white farmers who have taken their lobbying campaigns internationally to put pressure on the government.
The ruling ANC party has set fixed guidelines on how to accomplish this controversial agenda. It wants to ensure it promotes race relations, does not harm agricultural production and food security and that the process must be fair to all South Africans.
The government emphasizes that land reform should not be just about past sins and South Africa has come a long way to debase its post apartheid image.
Recrimination helps no one and only destroys trust which is badly needed for any land reform policy to work. South Africans came together before to get rid of apartheid. Nothing stops them from coming together again to fight structural poverty caused by apartheid.