Once again, President Jacob Zuma has kicked off the year by promising to speed up land reform. At the beginning of last year he said that "the challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment have their roots in the vast tracts of land that was stolen from the indigenous people of South Africa". Land reform and support for emerging farmers should therefore be "radically accelerated".
This year in his speech on the 105th anniversary of the founding of the African National Congress (ANC) he promised to "pursue land reform and land redistribution with greater speed and urgency". The ANC in its 105th birthday statement echoed this promise.
Whether Mr Zuma and his party and government can actually implement their promise of greater urgency is doubtful, however. Although Mr Zuma said the government would use the Expropriation Bill passed last year, he has not yet signed it; if he does so, it is likely to be challenged all the way to the Constitutional Court, which has already put land restitution legislation on hold on the grounds that it was enacted without adequate consultation.
"Returning the land to the people" is a key component of the national democratic revolution, commitment to which was reiterated at least half a dozen times in the ANC's statement –although this was largely ignored by the press. The ANC's statement also claimed that the South African "peasantry is left with a shrinking land mass to eke a living".
The minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, seems to have a different view. At the beginning of December last, he said that much land had already been transferred to black people and that the government was trying by all means to make sure that it remained productive. Previously he has acknowledged that in most cases of transfer a productive farm which was a going concern had collapsed.
There have been numerous reports of how the supposed beneficiaries of land reform, more or less dumped on transferred land, have found themselves trapped in rural poverty.