News / Africa

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Emilia Khoza, evicted from her house when she was eight years old, at the Pretoria Land Claims office, Pretoria, South Africa. (Gillian Parker/VOA)
Emilia Khoza, evicted from her house when she was eight years old, at the Pretoria Land Claims office, Pretoria, South Africa. (Gillian Parker/VOA)

In 2014, 20 years after the end of apartheid, land issues remain as contentious in South Africa as they ever have. Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased, while legal experts are scratching their heads about how some proposed reforms would be implemented.  
 
Land reform is a prickly issue in South Africa. For some it conjures up images of land being stolen from black people under apartheid. For others, mainly whites, it incites fear of being evicted from their farms, echoing Zimbabwe's forceful approach.
 
Today, most of South Africa's most fertile land is still in the hands of a few thousand white commercial farmers. The government now wants to buy land from those owners and redistribute it to black people who were forced off it during white-minority rule.
 
The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill became law on July 1. The law reopens a claims process that ended in 1998, and gives people who were forcibly moved from their land five years to lodge new claims. If claimants are successful, they are given the option of getting their land back or receiving financial compensation.
 
Nomfundo Gobodo, who is the country's chief land claims commissioner, says the law is necessary.

"You find that peoples' wounds have not yet healed," said Gobodo. "No, they still remember… the stories where people say they went to school and when they came back they didn't have a home. It is really about giving back people's dignity."
 
However, the process is fraught with problems. Some experts argue that there is a lack of capital to sustain farms under new ownership and that many black farmers who would win land claims do not have the skills to keep the farms commercially viable.
 
More than 5,000 claims have been lodged in the first month. The majority, Gobodo says, are opting to take cash payment over having their land back. But she warns that this short-term win won't break down inequality and poverty for future generations.
 
"I think that the people really feel that they need immediate benefits and so they usually want to opt for financial compensation. But what we are undertaking is to try and convince people that the better option long-term is the land," Gobodo said.
 
The government has made big promises. But less than 10 percent of white-owned land has been handed over since 1994. Out of the nearly 80,000 land claims submitted during the 1990s, 8,000 still have not been settled due to protracted legal battles.

Corruption could also taint the process as politically connected traditional authorities try to push through large land claims.  

The better off may reap the rewards of a scheme originally designed to reduce poverty and inequality says Ruth Hall, an associate professor at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies.
 
"[There are] many more challenges - the question of how to distribute the land? And the one of the most contentious issues is who should get it?" she said. "Here there are powerful lobbies in favor of black commercial farmers who would like to get access and would like to get state subsidies to do so."
 
Some politicians are calling for a more drastic approach - including taking land from white farmers without compensation.
 
The government is considering a proposal to transfer a 50 percent share of commercial farmland to workers in proportion to the amount of time they have worked on the land.
 
It would be an unprecedented move in land reform. Heated parliamentary discussions and outcry from farmers suggest a rocky road ahead.
 
Hall says there is huge disconnect between policy and the demands of rural people.
 
"Many of the farm workers organizations we've been working with have been saying, 'We didn't want to have equity in the commercial farms where we already have experienced oppression," she said. "We would much rather have land of our own.' And that is what we are asking government for, give us land of our own and also many people would like to remain in their jobs on farms, give us better living and working conditions, implement and enforce minimum wages.'"
 
Whichever way the debate turns, it is clear that South Africa's land issues are far from over.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs