Even before Nelson Mandela
and the post-apartheid South African government took power in 1994, the issue
of land redistribution loomed large: The colonial system put 87 percent of land
hands of 60,000 white farmers and the state. Over 19 million mostly poor, black
and landless South Africans were crowded into the remaining 13 percent.
early as 1993, the World Bank warned that if the government did not undertake
"a major restructuring of the rural economy centered on significant land
transfers and smaller scale agricultural production units," the country would
face the danger of rural violence and possibly civil war.
Ushering in reform
Once installed, South
Africa's new government chose to tackle land reform in two ways: restitution that
assessed and processed claims from people who said they were unfairly forced off
their land under apartheid, and redistribution, which transferred state-owned
other land to formerly disadvantaged communities.
original plan was for land restitution and redistribution through voluntary market
transactions -- known as the willing buyer/willing seller approach -- with a goal
of transferring 30 percent of white-owned farmland over five years. However, nearly
ten years later, only 2 percent has been transferred. More than 9 of every 10
acres of commercial farmland remain in the hands of 50,000 white farmers, according
to The New York Times.
slow pace of land transfer, combined with increasing political pressure leading
up to the April 14 elections, has forced President Thabo Mbeki's African National
Congress government to offer new ideas about how to speed up the process.
revised redistribution program in 2001 increased grants from 16,000 rands (R)
per household (about $4,500) to between R20,000 and R100,000, depending on what
individuals could contribute to the purchase price of land. The revised program
also made grants available to adult individuals as opposed to households, so that
multiple adults from the same household could pool their resources.
controversially, in 2004, Mbeki signed several amendments to the 1994 Restitution
of Land Rights Act, including one that allows his minister of agriculture, Thoko
Didiza, to expropriate farms without going to court.
to Chief Land Claims Commissioner Tozi Gwanya, this was only to be used as a last
land reform generally may be accepted, but it has inherent problems, more so if
there is unwillingness on the part of those concerned, especially the sellers,"
Gwanya told the Financial Mail.
is only allowed in cases where black South Africans can show that the land was
once theirs, and that it was unfairly seized. The law also says that the existing
owner must be fully compensated.
like Andries Botha, land issues spokesman for the opposition Democratic Alliance,
say the new laws will encourage Zimbabwe-style land invasions.
are moving from the rule of law to the law of rule," Botha warned in the
Sunday Times of London. "ANC ministers imagine themselves as beings of infinite
wisdom whose actions should not be questioned. In 1990 the Zimbabwean minister
of agriculture also held this kind of view."
than 1,500 South African farmers have been killed in land-related violence since
1991, according to the Economist magazine.
analysts say the effects of the new powers will not be known until after the April
History of land restitution
Since the end of apartheid,
the Reconstruction and Development Program has been the centerpiece of South Africa's
land reform. The program focuses on land restitution: a legal process whereby
people who can prove they were dispossessed of their land after 1913 (when the
colonial government formally restricted African land ownership in the Natives
Land Act) could regain the land or receive financial compensation.
new constitution, which Parliament approved in 1996, included the "property
clause," which demanded fair, market-related compensation for land taken
in the public interest, including through land restitution and land redistribution.
Under the rules,
anyone who lost land "due to racially discriminatory measures" since
1913 could take their claims to the Land Court. All claims had to be lodged by
the end of 1998 and most cases were settled amicably with compensation paid.
date, the Land Claims Commission has settled 45,096 of the 79,000 valid claims
lodged before the December 1998 cut-off date.
criticism of the process is that cases that were disputed and sent to the Land
Claims Court for adjudication were caught in red tape.
soon became clear that the court-driven process was antagonistic and painstakingly
slow, hence the settlement of only 41 land claims between 1995 and March 1999,"
pace accelerated after President Mbeki instructed the Commission to finalize all
claims by the end of 2005.
said all claims would be settled by 2005, adding that, "by world standards,
South Africa has been on the fast track in implementing restitution, considering
the slow pace in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Estonia."
a separate program launched in 2000, the government plans to purchase and redistribute
about 30 percent of agricultural land to promote black commercial farming by 2015.
However, critics point out that with just $183 million in the current year's land
reform budget, the goal is not practical. Analysts estimate it will take several
billion dollars to reach the 30 percent target, according to reporter John Donnelly
of the Boston Globe.
slow pace of land reform has taken a political toll on the ruling ANC party and
the government is feeling pressure from both sides.
group of white farmers, the Transvaal Agricultural Union, recently established
a restitution resistance fund to resist land claims.
the other side is a fast-growing political faction called the Landless People's
Movement, which claims 100,000 members and threatens farm invasions in early 2005,
at the height of the presidential election season. "We are going to shake
them," said Magaliso Kubheka, who organized the group, according to The New
the People's Tribunal on Landlessness and Rural Poverty in March, 250 rural leaders
released a statement rejecting the property clause in the constitution, saying
that it protects those who have profited from apartheid, and demanded an extension
to the cut-off date for restitution claims.
By Leah Clapman, Online NewsHour