How to defuse South Africa's ticking land time-bomb.

Author:Choruma, Allen

Even 23 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa, the land reform question--a key pillar of the ANC's political manifesto --keeps getting kicked into the long grass, perhaps because it is a complex issue. But there is a solution available that could suit all parties.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid has come back to haunt independent South Africa like a ghost. The impact of the forced removal of black Africans from land legitimised by the colonial Natives Land Act of 1913 and the institutionalisation of racial segregation by apartheid's notorious Group Areas Act of 1950, is still felt today.

Since the end of the apartheid era, land reform policies have had limited impact and barely altered the land ownership structure and status quo in South Africa.

Seventy-nine percent (96.5m hectares) of prime agricultural land is majority-owned by 35,000 white commercial farmers and big corporations; and a tiny fraction of black elites. In stark contrast, 15m blacks (a third of the black population) live in communal areas and occupy only 14% of land (17m hectares).

Rural South Africa is the cradle of the landless, the unemployed and the uneducated. Extreme forms of underdevelopment, poverty and impoverishment create a ripe environment for social implosion.

A robust land reform programme is needed to address legacies of the past through land redistribution and restitution and other transformative rural development programmes.

The danger of doing nothing about land reform is that the restlessness and agitation among the landless rural population and the homeless urbanites could lead, as they did in Zimbabwe, to social upheavals and spontaneous land occupations, with land seizures and land grabs leading to anarchy. The consequences, as we well know, would be disastrous.

President Jacob Zuma in his keynote address at the opening of the House of Traditional Leaders in March declared: "We must undertake a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation pattern. Once the audit has been completed, a single law should be developed to address the issue of land redistribution without compensation. The necessary constitutional amendments would then be undertaken to effect this process."

But if the ANC government is as radical towards land reform as it rhetorically claims, why is it that to date only 7.5% of land has been returned to indigenous black Africans, while the ANC's target at independence was to return 30% of land by 1999?

Why is it...

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