Land reform: levelling up or levelling down?
South Africa's Land Act of 1913 prohibited inter-racial transfers of land both inside and outside what later were designated as the "homelands". It was repealed in 1991, as was the 1936 act.
Since repeal, millions of hectares of farm land have been transferred from white to black via the restitution and redistribution processes. An unknown but possibly very large quantity of agricultural land has also changed hands as blacks have simply bought it on the market. If this were to be taken into account, the government's objective that 30% of white agricultural land should be transferred to blacks might already have been met.
However, transfers via the market are not counted towards the 30%. As the minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, has said, "I myself bought land, but this is not reflected when we measure black ownership". The same applies to all the other farms purchased by blacks on the willing-buyer-willing-seller basis in the 25 years since repeal.
Excluding market transfers from the official count is bizarre, although it is in line with government thinking that redistribution is something that only the state can do. But what the state is of course doing is transferring land not from white farmers to black ones, but from white farmers to itself. For several years now leasehold has been the only form of title available to beneficiaries of land reform in the commercial areas formerly designated as the "white area". This, according to Mr Nkwinti, is to stop any sales to whites after transfer.
Among the consequences of confining black farmers in the commercial areas to leasehold is that they are unable to get access to finance because they do not have title deeds. According to the National Emergent Red Meat Producers' Organisation (Nerpo), one of the leading black agricultural associations, only about 5% of smallholder black farmers own farms.