Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The charade called Land Reform: A personal experience

Apartheid is the most demeaning policy to black people that was adopted by the National party government. Erasing the psychological scars it has inflicted on the majority of the people of this country is going to take ages.

I grew up in a farming area in the former Western Transvaal called Schweizer Reneke in a township called Ipelegeng. The town is named after two Boer war veterans but the history of this town is much more than that but that is a topic for another time. My grandparents were staying on a farm about 30km North of Schweizer Reneke. My grandfather was a labour tenant, but growing up we knew that he worked for the baas (I never really knew the baas name because his name was baas and his kids were oubaases). (I think I met oubaas in Cape Town while studying in there and he was practicing medicine).

My grandfather had lots of livestock and planted his own field and during school holidays all his grandchildren would go spend the holidays there (and we were a tribe on our own). We used to look forward to school holidays because there would be plenty of food, hunting, fireside stories and interaction with nature.

My grandfather passed away in the 80’s and my grandmother against all advice decided to relocate to the newly established “paradise” called Bophuthatswana. She was so happy to be relocating and meeting with some of her family that were staying there. She relocated with lots cattle, sheep, goats, a few horses and donkeys. Within a couple all years all the livestock was gone because of the harshness of the conditions and lack of grazing in her new home. I think this must have broken her because very soon she suffered from a stroke from which she never recovered until she died. She was a strong woman.

The reason why I am telling this story is to show how under apartheid one had to be owned by a baas in order to survive and how trying to “beat” the system could break one’s spirit. This is a typical story of the erstwhile Western Transvaal.

Fast track into the new dispensation and the dawning of the land reform programme aimed at giving people like my grandparents rights independent of the landowners. What is happening is the exact opposite; people like my grandfather have been systematically removed from the land and the only vocation they know in this new dispensation.

As an example one of my uncles used to stay on a farm about 10 km west of the town. We used to go there once in a while to get fresh milk, fresh vegetables and fresh everything. The uncle and his kids would look at us boys from the township with pity because of our supposed superiority whereas they were sustaining us. With the introduction of land reform they were illegally evicted from the farm like slaves they were without any government intervention. The same happened to my other uncle who was in his late 70 when he was evicted; he also stays in the squatter settlements and relies solely on governments handouts where he could previously provide for his own food.

A study was done some few years that revealed that between the period 1994 and 2004 close to a million farm dwellers were evicted from farms without any assistance from government. Most of my family are included in that number, which in my view is very conservative.

But some of my family have benefited from the land reform programme. My other uncle who also stays in Ipelegeng township, has always had a few livestock which was grazing in the outskirts of the township because there were no grazing camps. As part of the land reform programme the government bought a 100 or so of them a farm about 30km from town to keep their cattle. Now imagine the conflicts that arose as a result of 100 people having to share a farm. As a result of the intractable conflicts that arose my uncle decided to take his few livestock back to the township for peace of mind and to be closer to his livestock. The problem is that land for grazing is no longer available because all the space has been taken up by the squatter settlements and the forever expanding township.

I was once a government employee with the Department of Land Affairs as a projects officer. As one of my projects we bought a prime agricultural land for about 30 or so farm worker families who were staying on that farm as a going concern. These 30 or so uneducated families were expected to continue with the farm as business as usual and come up with complex business plans and the like.

Within a few years the farm was a squatter camp because the surrounding white farmers evicted people and dumped them on this farm. So yes, I was part of this charade that systematically set up black people for failure. Me! with no agricultural background at all expected to be a project manager on an agricultural enterprise!

Less than 5% of agricultural land has been transferred to blacks in the last 14 years against an always shifting target of 15% by 2014. 80% of the projects initiated in the land that has been transferred resulted in failure. Those that are a success are because the land has been given back to white farmers (either through lease or some contract).

People who have benefited from this programme are estimated to be a few millions. Now close to a million farmers have been evicted from the land and a few millions (maybe 1-2 million people) have benefited from this programme. You do the maths.


  1. Moremogolo, the issue of land reform is one that in my view is going to break the backbone of goodwill. I have had my own family experience with the process but will not forget the professional experience I had - the sadness of it all, the greed that sets in and the old conflicts that are settled. If there is one thing the government will be well advised to deal with urgently, it is this one - lest they discover what peasant uprising truly is. Where is Siphiwe when we need him?

  2. :(

    What do you think is the best way to deal with land reform?

  3. The government should give these small scale farmers called farmworkers a piece of land where they are, say maybe 5-20 hectares in order for them to subsist. The situation of farm workers is modern slavery where you have a person whose every right is dependent on the land owner.

    You cannot give 10 people who have no expereince of farming a farm and expect them to run it commercially and not give them necessary tools to practice the trade. Commercial farming is being promoted as the only viable option in South Africa whereas if mixed farming systems where introduced it would help alleviate poverty. This will mean a situation where commercial farmers exists alongside subsistence farmers and small scale farmers.

    The current rent a crowd system of land reform should be thrown off the window and people should be trained and equiped before they are given a farm to run. And expropriation should become a tool the government is willing to use readily if we are to avoid the rising of the peasants MoAfrika is talking about. The constitution provides for expropriation of land for public and land reform purposes.

    And the government need to show more political will to implement land reform. Currently the budget allocation for this programme is less than 3% of the national budget. Poverty will be erdicated if you give people access to land and equip them to produce on the land.

  4. I thought of your post a day or two ago when some friends of mine were talking about a court case in Grahamstown...

    A community that had been living somewhere between PE and GHT decades ago was relocated to the former Ciskei. And one of the community members, Velile Mafani, has been trying to get some justice for them for years and years. He's written to all sorts of government people for ages and finally a year or two ago threw a brick though a window in the Grahamstown high court in protest. So they let him off with a warning I think, but he did it again.

    More info:

    Anyway its a bit of a sad story because this man has just been trying and trying for literally decades, and no one in power is listening. And the brick through the window thing was fine for publicity, but the courts can't go anything to sort out the land issue... so he just ends up being fined or sitting in jail.

    But ja anyway it reminded me of this blog post.

  5. Well, Laura, the NGO that I work for could probably assist him. We have partners in the Eastern Cape who can assist him in his plight. we deal with many cases of this kind and it is really painful to see how government take people for a ride.

    My contacts are (011)403 4426 or

  6. Thank you so much.

    I passed on your details to the friend I know who used to be working on his case. She said she will pass on the info to his new lawyers.