South Africa - Land Reform: Patience Running Out

Apartheid restricted blacks to ownership of just thirteen percent of South Africa’s land, so land reform has been high on the economic policy agenda for ten years. The focus has been on the more than 85 million hectares owned by white commercial farmers. The government intends to transfer thirty percent of this to black farmers by 2015, but the pace has been slow. Radical threats of farm invasions in the fertile Mpumalanga province east of Johannesburg and creeping invasions in some areas of KwaZulu-Natal have raised the spectre of the Zimbabwean disaster, and affected investor confidence in agriculture.

The World Today Published 1 March 2004 Updated 16 October 2020 4 minute READ

Nick Vink

Chair, Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Stellenbosch

The government, fearing a serious challenge, has reacted strongly against illegal land invasions and shown remarkable flexibility in adapting the land reform programme introduced in 1994 where it has recognised weaknesses.

Nevertheless, it seems difficult to satisfy all those involved. White commercial farmers, who lost virtually all the subsidies they enjoyed in the apartheid years, rightly or wrongly believe that they are being targeted by deregulation, minimum wages, the loss of water rights and land taxes, even though they are the country’s main providers of food security. On the other side, spokespeople for the rural poor accuse the government of favouring the wealthy and putting the interests of the market above those of the consumers.

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