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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More