Position:Letter to the Editor

You're right on SA land reform

Firstly, congratulations on the outstanding article about land reform in South Africa (NA, Nov). For too long now, articles, papers and the like on the issue have steered clear of pointing out the urgency of the situation and the inevitability of complete destabilisation of this country if the status quo endures.

Many readers will be tempted to dismiss your article as unnecessarily alarmist or dramatised, but personally I have absolutely no doubt you are right.

The system of apartheid determined that I could become a landowner in this country (South Africa) through the dispossession and deprivation of the 20 other families still living on the farm.

In 1998, we decided to embark on a land reform, housing and enterprise creation project as a form of reconciliation and to try to overcome the damages of the past as far as possible. The project has been successful and has benefited from lots of support from the Department of Land Affairs tight up to ministerial level. What I have learned in the process is how desperate the land situation in South Africa is, and how inadequate the response from the beneficiaries of apartheid has been. Our project attracted a lot of media attention and therefore we have been in a unique position to experience the reaction of other white landowners. Initially it was totally reactionary and hostile with the inevitable threats one expects in the very conservative area where we live. What has, however, been encouraging is the more constructive response that has been evident more recently.

Undoubtedly, the unfolding mayhem in Zimbabwe has provoked some South African landowners into adopting a more progressive approach to land reform. Simultaneously, the Landless People's Movement of South Africa and the Pan Africanist Congress, which has historically positioned the land issue at the centre of the liberation struggle, have stepped up their demands for speedy progress, including a national land summit.

Predictably, this combination of factors has resulted in some reactionary forces claiming to represent the white Afrikaans community threatening to sabotage land reform and indeed the entire fabric of the new South Africa. The land reform issue is rapidly moving to centre stage in this country too.

Having studied the issue for the last few years, it has become very clear to me that the stakeholders in land reform in South Africa, including the government, the landless and landowner organisations, political parties and the relevant economic sectors (agriculture, mining and the commercial banks) lack the capacity to tackle the issues on the scale required as long as they continue to work in isolation from each other.

Currently they appear to be exactly mimicking their counterparts in Zimbabwe ... sitting back and waiting for the government to magically sort this lot out on its own, and either pontificating sagely about the need for orderly reform within the rule of law, etc, or complaining about the lack of progress.

What is NOT happening is the combining of resources into a partnership to drive the process. The challenge, of course, then becomes what can be done in reality to change things. Initial discussions with individual farmers who are positively disposed toward land reform, and to individuals in the commercial banking sector (which ultimately owns most of the land) indicate a growing momentum toward some form of action.

What is not clear is exactly what shape such action can and should take. Organised agriculture is making some encouraging noises but with few exceptions doesn't seem to know how to translate this into action.

The point of this letter is to make an appeal for help to your readers. If you can contribute with ideas, contacts in South Africa or outside of it, or any other form of support to mobilise landowners and others into the partnership needed for...

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