The struggle for land and resources divides South Africa


South Africans have been embroiled in an intense debate over land expropriation with compensation. This policy deeply divides the country.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Editor’s Note: In 2019, Larry Miller from WUSA 9 was selected by the National Association of Black Journalists like that Scholar Ethel Payne. He received $5,000 to produce and publish an article on issues related to the African continent. COVID-19 restrictions delayed his trip for two years. He was able to complete his journey in May 2022.

South Africa may be a generation removed from its apartheid past, but the fight for equality continues among thousands of farmers on more than 96 million acres of land.

Phori Ntsane, 37, is one such farmer. Soft-spoken, but deliberate with his words, the young black farmer has turned a small plot of land into an organic farm. He now produces a lot of vegetables for himself and his neighbours.

“We believe in nature here,” Ntsane said. “We need to share, whether with insects or others. We need to share.

Ntsane’s farm has an unconventional start. Out of necessity, he and his neighbors began cultivating vacant, fertile land near their homes, producing spinach, radishes, and other vegetables. They did it without notice, without reservations and without the support of the government. The farm grew by several acres, requiring more resources to maintain their crops.

“We started asking permission because we knew along the way that we would need support,” he said. “Because in this industry, you can’t do it alone.”

In South Africa, land is considered a basic right, to which citizens should have access simply because they are citizens and members of the community. It is estimated that more than 27 million South Africans live without adequate housing, crammed into tiny tin-roofed houses built by the African Nation Congress (ANC). Access to land, however, could lift millions out of poverty.

“Land is key for us,” Ntsane said pointedly. “We started working the land. And we have created perks and perks.

Access to land and the resources to maintain it is a matter of concern to much of the country. Black farmers, like Ntsane, say they constantly fight for resources and training, in an industry where the number of black farmers compared to the black population is disproportionate. Demographics show that blacks make up more than 75% of the population, yet they own only 4% of the country’s farmland. Whites, on the other hand, make up 8% of the population and own more than 75% of all agricultural land.

The inequality is due, in part, to the Native Lands Act of 1913. The law prohibited black people from buying or renting land outside designated reservations. He denied them access to land they owned or leased from white farmers. The law, and others like it, would eventually lead to the start of apartheid.

To increase the number of black farm owners, some MPs have called on the country to decree “expropriation without compensation”. It is a policy where land from white farmers would be taken without compensation and redistributed among black farmers.

“We have descendants of land invaders who came to our continent here in South Africa and stole land,” said Leigh-Ann Mathys, spokesperson for the Economic Freedom Fighters, a far-left political party that strongly supports land expropriation without compensation. , the deep-seated issue here is theft. It is brutality. It is a land that has been dispossessed.”

While some members of the ANC, the country’s ruling party, support land expropriation without compensation, legislative proposals often lead nowhere. A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow expropriation of land without compensation failed in a vote in December 2021. Experts like Dr. Cyril Mbatha, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Rhodes University , suggest that politics is being used as bait by some politicians as a way to get votes.

“They’ve had the power for years and haven’t done anything,” Mbatha said. “If they wanted to go ahead, they could have done it easily.”

Ntsane represents some of the black farmers who support land expropriation without compensation.

“I personally support land expropriation without compensation,” he said. “However, my concern is what do we do with the land we currently have?”

Understanding the demands of agriculture, Ntsane fears that those who acquire land without the proper resources and training are ultimately doomed.

It’s a concern shared by another black farmer, Portia Mahlobo, 44. Although the two disagree on the expropriation of land without compensation, they agree on the need for additional resources for black farmers.

“As [expropriation without compensation] is being proposed now, and it is being advocated by these political parties, it doesn’t make sense,” Mahlobo said. “What makes sense is to put in place a program that…. bridges the gap between those who have and those who have not.”

Mahlobo is not a natural farmer; the industry kind of found it. She became involved in agriculture with the goal of helping struggling communities become more self-sufficient. Mahlobo helps run a small farm through a project called “You reap what you sow”.

She does not support the expropriation of land without compensation and added that farmers, like her, are less concerned with politics and more with adequate support.

“Many farmers are struggling because some have access to land but not other resources,” she said.

Fellow farmer Themba Dingilizwe reiterated how much is still missing.

“We still need lots and lots of support from the local government,” Dingilizwe said.

Also included in the conversation are white farmers, some of whom inherited land from relatives and those who purchased land on their own.

“He’s my son – he’s going to start farming when I retire,” Koos De La Rey said as he drove around his 500-acre farm in an old car he’s owned for decades.

As a farmer and academic, De La Rey admits the idea that his land could be confiscated without compensation is troubling.

“If it’s taken away from me…it’s theft,” he said passionately. “I started with nothing. I worked 10 hour days for many, many years and paid for the land I currently own. What makes it their land? What gives them the right to this land? Absolutely nothing.”

He added that the government owned millions of acres of land and suggested that government-owned land be surrendered instead of land owned by white farmers. De La Rey noted that if land were given away without requiring people to work on it, it could have a negative impact on the economy, a point disputed by leading academics whose research has shown negligible impact of involvement. of an agrarian reform policy.

Still, De Le Rey insisted he knew many farms where they “destroyed everything because they didn’t work for it”.

“Of course, many [white farmers] argue that they acquired their property on the open market,” said Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, lawyer and author of “Land Matters: South Africa’s failed Land Reforms and the Road Ahead.” “But the problem with this explanation is that it ignores what this market was. It was always a white market, created by apartheid and exclusive.”

The Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa (TAU SA) represents commercial farmers like De La Rey. They too are concerned about appropriation without compensation and have activated their members and allies to oppose any change by parliament

“We don’t have a problem if the farmer is black or white, female or male, that’s not the issue,” said Bennie Van Zyl, managing director of TAU SA. “What we need is a successful farmer.”

Van Zyl said the majority of new black farmers eventually shut down, a statistic supported by government data. Experts suggest black farmers receive limited support and education, contributing to high failure rates. Despite the statistics, many see the upliftment of black farmers as a necessity and if it forces white farmers to have their land taken away without compensation, then so be it.

“Land is the only solution for this country,” Ntsane said. “We don’t want land for land’s sake. We want the earth to have our own businesses. We want the earth to take control of the economy of this country.”

*Both TEGNA, Inc.. and The National Association of Black Journalists made this story possible.

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