LREAD Perspective January 2017

LREAD Perspective January 2017

Land reform crystal ball for the year ahead

A new year with new challenges and opportunities awaits us as 2017 got underway this past January. Land reform issues already surfaced. President Zuma used his final official message of 2016 to speak about land reform. President Zuma called for “decisive action” and “meaningful progress” on land reform and restitution in 2017. President Zuma also mentioned the possibility of using expropriation as a tool in fast tracking land reform, with the prerequisite that it must comply with the letter and spirit of our Constitution. And again during the recent ANC lekgotla held in January, the party’s National Executive Committee highlighted land reform as a priority.

Commentators have pointed out that in a year where the ruling party will hold an elective conference, populist messaging on the sensitive matter of land ownership is to be expected.

This year has also already reminded us of the power of Mother Nature through several run away fires in the Province. We are also in the midst of a crippling drought which affects the agricultural sector directly. Mother Nature is however not influenced by our societal and economic dreams and contestations.



The climate, coupled with a sluggish economy, is also affecting agriculture’s profitability in a very negative way. These conditions are adding to the challenges of land reform, as it is often difficult to develop a sustainable business model for land reform projects, which adds further pressure on the role of government to provide the necessary support for projects to survive.

With this in mind, I think it is interesting to review a study conducted in 2016 by the respected Vumelana Think Tank on different scenarios for land reform in South Africa. Maybe these scenarios can serve as a crystal ball for what might lay ahead for us in 2017.

The Vumelana Think Tank, consisting of experts and leaders in the agricultural sector and academia, started out with what constitutes future certainties and uncertainties in the South African socio political environment. The team was reasonably certain that the following conditions will prevail in the near future:

  • High levels of poverty.
  • High levels of inequality in our society.
  • A constraint on natural, human and financial resources.
  • Continued institutional weakness and corruption.
  • Long term dry El Nino weather will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Uncertainties which were listed includes:

  • What type and quality of leadership will we be dealing with?
  • How will the political story of South Africa develop?
  • Will, and by what extend, will economic growth pick up?
  • How will land use patterns change?
  • Will it be possible to develop and agree on a common vision for land reform?

With this as background, the Vumelana group came up with the following four possible scenarios:

  • Connect and capture.
  • Market power and concentration.
  • Occupation and confiscation.

Hard bargaining and compromise.

In the first scenario, Connect and capture, well-connected business, traditional and political leaders capture the land reform process for their own benefit. It is foreseen that traditional leaders will grow in influence regarding land under their control at the expense of individual land users under their jurisdiction. In the second scenario, Market Power and Concentration, we see a government driving land reform with market based strategies and through community partnerships with private land owners. This scenario sees black citizens owning 50% of land by 2030, although the number of commercial farms have declined. The state focus on services to urban areas, with rural areas falling by the wayside. The majority of land claimants feel cheated and let down by the process.

The third scenario, Occupation and Confiscation, sees a situation where hard economic times foster the conditions for nationwide land invasions. Confiscation without compensation of land is legalised through changes to the Constitution. This see a transfer of 60% of commercial farm land to black citizens by 2030. South Africa has a new government made up of a coalition of parties with different views on land reform, resulting in an unclear vision and no constitutional framework to guide land reform policy. The forth scenario, Hard Bargaining and Compromise, manages to get a broad range of stakeholders to participate in a negotiated process towards addressing land reform challenges. These include government; the business sector, and civil society organisations. An often difficult process of give and take from all involved manages to narrow the gap between large scale commercial and small scale subsistence enterprises. By 2030 there is a greater diversity of land ownership and land usage. A remaining challenge is food security, which remains fragile.

Looking at these four scenarios, one can identify aspects of each one of them in our current reality. The eventual outcome will in all likelihood be a complex mix with bits and pieces of all four, as well as aspects not even contemplated by the Think Tank.

The forth scenario will be the most difficult to embark on, as inclusive processes will require the buy-in and cooperation of contesting role players. But such a process could yield the best long term results. The third scenario will be the easiest to initiate and holds much short term populist appeal. But it will also yield the most undesirable long term results.

It seems that land reform is like any other difficult issue we might experience in our daily interactions and relationships with one another. Scenario three is the same as punching your life partner to the floor to settle a domestic score. Short term satisfaction for the aggressor, but no long term resolution to the real problem. Scenario four is descriptive of a difficult but respectful and honest discussion where partners are committed to finding a solution. Such discussions can be so difficult that outside help in the form counselling or mediation might be needed. But the process holds the promise of finding real and sustainable common ground. History teaches us that people can kiss and make up, thus accommodating one another.

The LREAD’s wish for 2017 is that our leaders and land reform role players will have the courage and strength to avoid easy and quick wins for some, in favour of a more difficult and often unsatisfactory process, which holds the potential for a long-term good news story of land reform for all the people of South Africa.


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