Prof. Monty J. Roodt responded to an article published in Activate Ed. 1 28 Feb 2012
Land and agrarian transformation in South Africa: beyond the impasse.
The argument around land reform in South Africa is characterised as much by the degree of strong emotion generated, as by the confusion around who owned what land when. The emphasis on historical rights has to a large extent hampered the development of a dynamic and coherent rural development policy that will bring about agrarian transformation with the achievement of equity and socio-economic development as its central tenet.
Connie Mulder’s short-sighted comments in parliament and the emotive responses of his critics have only added to the hot air around the land issue. A brief comment is necessary to show not only the limitations of the who-owned-what-when historical argument, but also the lack of political insight into what is best for his followers and South Africans as a whole. If Mulder’s arguments that Africans have no claim to the Western and Northern Cape because white settlers occupied them first are entertained, then the corollary would be true and no whites would have any claim on the rest of South Africa as black South Africans clearly occupied them before the arrival of the settlers. Tell that to the Boere folk!
As a country we would do well to take a leaf out of the German book. After the demise of East Germany and reunification, a process of restitution for land and other economic assets was put in place for losses suffered both by Jews during the Nazi period, as well as by Germans during the Communist period. In spite of the strong emotions attached to both sets of dispossessions and the persecutions suffered by the victims, a pragmatic approach towards restitution was adopted. It was agreed that in the post-reunification phase, economic growth and job creation were the prime objectives, and that restitution had to be subordinate to this priority.
South Africa, by contrast, has implemented a land reform process that has operated largely as relocation in reverse.
Land reform has been primarily about financial compensation for urban restitution claims and the return of land for both restitution and redistribution without adequate state support. This lack of support is manifested in a number of ways, from the lack of a coherent rural development plan that prioritises the establishment of agro-industries and promotes rural-urban linkages, integration of land reform into municipal planning processes, to underresourced provincial agricultural departments unable to offer meaningful post-settlement support (agricultural extension, market research, credit provision, etc.).
What South Africa needs is a coherent policy that addresses agrarian transformation and overcomes the bottlenecks created by the willing seller/willing buyer approach (such as inflated land prices), a well-resourced National Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and a commitment to training young, especially black farmers in business as well as agricultural skills to spearhead the transformation of the countryside.
Monty J. Roodt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Rhodes University