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Land reform exploited by the privileged

By Isabelle Coetzee

Since land reform is not restricted to the poor, a range of interest groups, including mining companies and urban businessmen, have taken advantage of the current system. 

This is according to Ruth Hall, professor and specialist in the politics of agrarian reform at the University of the Western Cape, who participated in a panel discussion hosted by the University of Stellenbosch Business School last Thursday. 

“Research has shown very worrying patterns of elite capture,” said Hall to the audience.

“There’s no system of rationing public resources; no grant system. The state can buy farms and allocate a R20 million farm to an individual. Similarly, it can buy a R500 000 farm and allocate it to a group of 20 farm workers,” she explained.

Hall believes there’s no public oversight and accountability around how public resources are being used.

“We found that in addition to farm workers getting land from small-scale farmers, a growing pattern of urban businessmen are getting access to farms,” she said.

“In fact, despite the claims of gender equity, only 23% of beneficiaries are women and typically not in the high-yields projects,” she added.

Besides this, Hall also pointed out that some farms are being acquired and allocated to strategic partnerships, like agri-business companies.

“These businesses have down-stream operations and they want to control primary production in order to supply their own value chain,” she explained.

Hall pointed out that they often sign up farm workers as shareholders, but without effective control and without actual dividends being paid out to them.

“In many ways, the question of redistribution is not just a question of how fast it’s going, but a question of who is getting it,” said Hall.

Political influence in land reform

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, advocate of the High Court and author of The Land Is Ours: Black Lawyers and the Birth of Constitutionalism in South Africa, also participated in the panel.

He explained that elite capture, through political sway, contributed to land being disproportionately allocated.

“People who managed to get to the front of the queue were those who were politically connected,” said Ngcukaitobi.

He believes that decades of land dispossession attracted and replicated poverty over generations.

“We’re now in 2018, and we’re dealing with intergeneration poverty and structural inequality which has its genesis in the dispossession of land,” he said. 

Mining sector taking advantage

The third speaker, dr Aninka Claassens, chief researcher and director of the Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC) at the University of Cape Town, explained how land is being abused in mining areas.

“Expropriation without compensation is already happening on a routine basis and it’s happening to poor black people in mining areas, not to rich white people,” said Claassens.

She explained that this is possible because of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act.  It grants mining companies their land titles while simultaneously expropriating the surface rights of the people who live on their land.

“People who own the land where mining is taking place are the people who bear the brunt of forced removals,” said Claassens.

Besides this, she also explained how the Department of Mineral Resources, according to the chamber of mines, advises mining companies to treat traditional leaders as the representatives of the people.

“Rural South Africans are treated as tribal subjects, rather than citizens,” said Claassens.

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