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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa 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.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid