Johannesburg – South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa says his government will prioritise women, youth and persons with disabilities in its land reform programme.
In his weekly letter to the nation, the president made the remarks within the context of an earlier disclosure by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DLRD) that 700,000 hectares of under-utilised or vacant state land was ready to be leased out.
He said there had been demonstrable success with empowering women farmers under the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS).
“In a number of provinces, women who have been allocated farms by the DLRD have been able to run them successfully and even move into commercial production. In addition to the land acquisition itself, the Department continues to invest in infrastructure, equipment and machinery to enable these entrepreneurs to run successful businesses,” said the president.
President Ramaphosa said South Africa’s land reform programme would not only address historical injustices, but would also safeguard the nation’s food security.
“Agricultural land is the mainstay of our natural resource base. The availability and sustainable use of farmland to grow crops and for animal husbandry is key to our very survival. South Africa has vast tracts of land suitable for agricultural production, with 37,9 percent of our total land area currently being used for commercial agriculture,” he added.
The President said the effects of the 1913 Native Land Act continued to be felt in farmland ownership.
“By depriving our people of their right to own and work the land on which they depended for sustenance and livelihood, this great injustice effectively engineered the poverty of black South Africans.
“Its aim was to destroy our people’s prospects for self-reliance, independence and economic prosperity. At the most fundamental of levels, it destroyed our ability to feed ourselves.”
With land ownership still concentrated in the hands of the minority, and agriculture primary production and value chains mainly owned by white commercial farmers, the ghost of apartheid still looms large over South African society.
President Ramaphosa said the concentration of the means of production, such as land, in the hands of a few people bred both poverty and social unrest.
“The hunger for land to farm is growing, especially amongst the rural poor. And for a number of reasons, the pace of land reform in this particular sector has been slow and unsatisfactory,” the President said.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, up until March 2018, the government had transferred 8,4 million hectares of land to previously disadvantaged individuals. That represents less than 10 percent of South Africa’s commercial farmland.
President Ramaphosa said the state had mechanisms to stimulate productivity on land acquired for resettlement.
“To safeguard the allocated state land for farming purposes, the lease is not transferrable. Beneficiaries will sign a lease agreement with the state and pay a rental fee consistent with the land value. We must also ensure that farmers are supported along the road to sustainability and profitability.
“As part of this programme, beneficiaries will be trained in financial management and enterprise development. Experience has shown that emerging and small-scale farmers often lack the financial skills to exploit market opportunities and integrate with value chains.”
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Thoko Didiza urged other government departments to supports upcoming farmers to make land reforms a success.
“Yes, we are dealing with food security, but you must also make an income … The department of defence can buy and procure their food from emerging farmers. You have to feed soldiers, and the question is: From who do you buy? This offers an opportunity for farmers, the department of defence, and even the department of correctional services, which can be an immediate market for smallholder farmers,” said Minister Didiza.