did you begin covering the issue of land reform and where has your coverage taken
I began researching land reform in South
Africa only last year, but have been covering land issues of one kind or another
in this country and Namibia since I started as a reporter. That's because
land is integral to the political history of the region.
to 1994 most land stories were about dispossession and forced removals under apartheid.
In those days most black South Africans were technically assigned to one of nine
"homelands" dotted about the north and east of the country. Many were
physically uprooted and resettled in remote regions. Four homelands were granted
nominal independence. The grand vision of apartheid was to make all homelands
"independent" and their "citizens" guest workers in the white-ruled
state. This was totally impractical, of course, which helps to explain why apartheid
because of this policy and preceding generations of colonial rule, whites came
to own 87 percent of the land in South Africa. Namibia, though subjected to South
African control and racial policies from 1915 to 1990, was never quite as rigidly
divided. Nevertheless, South Africa did impose a loose form of ethnic territorial
partition on Namibia in the early 1960s. Largely for this reason, Namibia's white
minority are the dominant land owners, even now, 14 years after independence.
Just 6 percent of the whites own 50 percent of the arable land in what is essentially
a desert country.
is the situation in South Africa currently? What have been the results of the
planned land program the government has announced?
always been an emotive issue in South Africa, though it is not yet as politicized
as in Zimbabwe. It is bound to become a big political football, though, if the
pace of land reform is not accelerated.
the ANC came to power in 1994, it promised to ensure that 30 percent of commercial
farmland would be in black hands within 10 years. In reality just 3.3 percent
changed hands - 2.8m hectares out of a total 86m hectares. The government has
since scaled back its goal to 30 percent by 2009. Many observers believe this
is still too optimistic. The question is not whether to conduct land reform; it
is how to do it and make it effective.
the racial imbalance of land ownership is redressed, it will aggravate racial
tensions and lead to violent confrontations, as we see happening now in Zimbabwe.
It was the failure of the Zimbabwe government's land reform program which unleashed
political pressures that in turn pushed Robert Mugabe into collusion with the
the last two years in South Africa, agitation groups like the Landless People's
Movement, have become increasingly active. Though still small and unevenly organized,
such groups and individuals have spearheaded isolated invasions of state-owned
and white-owned land.
are promising signs of progress in South African land reform as private sector
banks and business groups, gazing uneasily at Zimbabwe, have realized the need
to throw their weight behind government's reform efforts. And government itself
is assigning more money, and developing better practices for land reform.
big question is how rapidly South Africa's reform programs can develop. New state
agricultural assistance grants to complement the land purchase grants should go
far in helping to sustain the new farmers. The South African government has instituted
legislation recently that allows the Land Affairs Minister to expropriate land
in cases where "willing buyer, willing seller" deals fail. The legislation
drew protest from the commercial farming lobby, who portray it as a Trojan horse
maneuver by the government to effect a Zimbabwe-style land grab. But this is mere
politicking; the government has always had the power to expropriate land, the
legislation simply makes it easier.
any case, commercial farmers still have the right to challenge the expropriation
if they feel the amount that the government is offering is insufficient. The government's
biggest failure so far has been its slowness to devise a working strategy. In
many cases outdated apartheid strictures on land use and regressive land taxes
that encourage unproductive big farms, instead of more affordable and efficient
small farms, remain on the statute books.
your coverage, describe some of the commercial land owners you've met and how
they have been affected by land reform?
I take it you mean white commercial farmers. The range of views is quite broad,
from those who accept the need to reach an accord with would-be black farmers
to those who have never, and will never, countenance black ownership of their
farms, or even their neighbors' farms.
have not made a special study of white farmers' views, but speak from experience
of having met commercial farmers over the years, and having grown up partly on
a farm myself. One white farmer, in the mid-1970s, plowed lime into his corn fields
to make them infertile, after he was forced to sell his farm (by expropriation)
to the then-apartheid government to make way for the first "independent"
black homeland. Such bitter emotions still exist, especially in the more conservative
parts of South Africa.
enlightened white farmers have given their workers shares and joint management
of their farms. In many cases of restitution, where white farmers have had to
sell their land to the state for return to the historical owners, the new owners
have retained the white farmers as managers because they do not have sufficient
farming skills themselves. It is a complex relationship, and by no means stereotypical.
the land issue affected farmers in Zimbabwe, S. Africa and Namibia similarly?
In what ways have the effects in each country been different?
There are obvious similarities,
because in all three countries white descendants of former colonists have owned
most of the land. The most marked differences are because of differing timescales
and physical characteristics of the countries. Because Zimbabwe went independent
in 1980, 10 years before Namibia and 15 years before South Africa's democratic
transition, that country's land issue has progressed the most. It is a highly
fertile country with better rainfall averages than most of South Africa and far
better than Namibia. Zimbabwe has 12m hectares of agricultural land while Namibia
has 36m and South Africa 86m.
Zimbabwe crisis developed because land reform was too slow. The same can be said
for Namibia; white farmers own about 30m hectares and blacks about 2.2m. Just
710,000 hectares have passed into the hands of 1,500 black farmers in the last
14 years through the "willing seller, willing buyer" process. An affirmative
action loan scheme has transferred 2.5m hectares to 450 farmers. There are said
to be 240,000 landless people in Namibia. The Namibian government said in March
that it would embark on expropriation program to speed reform. Last November it
introduced a land tax to discourage commercial farmers holding on to un- or under-productive
land. These are all policies espoused by the World Bank. South Africa is adopting
the same measures; its land tax legislation is heading for parliament this year.
is the sentiment among black farmers you've spoken to who have received land grants
and who are now occupying farms that once belonged to white farmers? Have those
you've seen been successful in farming the land once it's been distributed?
There has not been much to cheer about in the transfer of white farms to new black
farmers. The most successful cases seem to be those where the new and old owners
reach a joint working agreement. The problem is that few blacks have experience
in modern commercial farming.
farms these days are highly mechanized and farm owners hedge their crop prices
on the futures exchange. It requires financial as well as farming knowledge. One
commercial bank has devised a loan scheme geared to emerging black farmers that
includes crop insurance and a mentorship arrangement in which skilled white farmers
will be retained to help train the new black farmers. The department of agriculture,
too, is developing a mentorship program.
there been any successes in the land reform program? Has anyone benefited that
you have come across?
I haven't met any shining individual successes.
South Africa, have any farms been seized? What kind of force has been used?
There have been isolated seizures, but nothing to begin to compare with Zimbabwe.
Two years ago when squatters moved on to state land near Johannesburg, the government
was quick to remove them. This does not mean that South Africa could not head
down the Zimbabwean road. That is still plausible if land reform continues to
move too slowly and political pressures grow to the stage that they threaten the
dominance of the ANC in government.
has happened to the white farmers who have lost their land?
In Zimbabwe, some have moved to neighboring Mozambique and Zambia, or simply
retired to towns or emigrated.
there a general consensus among black Africans with whom you've spoken about whether
land redistribution is good or bad?
A 2001 survey by James Gibson of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
in South Africa found that 57 percent of respondents felt land reform was "very
important". Eight-five percent of black respondents agreed with the statement:
"Most land in South Africa was taken unfairly by white settlers, and they
therefore have no right to the land today." 68 percent of black respondents
agreed with the statement: "Land must be returned to blacks in South Africa,
no matter what the consequences are for the current owners and for political stability
in the country."
is the opinion in South Africa about the land seizures going on in Zimbabwe? Are
there indications it could spread to South Africa?
Yes, increasingly so. The fear of a "Zimbabwe-type situation" developing
has prompted business lobbies and white-led interest groups in particular to become
more supportive of government land reform initiatives.
Interview conducted by Chris Nammour, Online NewsHour