The tragic stories about failed land reform projects and the fate of thousands of beneficiaries that are suffering financially and are struggling to achieve viability can almost exclusively be attributed to corrupt and uncapable state officials. This is clear from the information shared by successful emerging farmers from across the country today during a media conference in collaboration with the family farmer network Saai and AfriForum.
These emerging farmers are part of a group of many famers that are fighting the same battle for surety of the state land they are currently successfully utilising for farming. Serious challenges are experienced everywhere:
- Long-term lease contracts are not awarded, or not awarded again after expiry.
- Land that are allocated, are already utilised or occupied by other persons.
- Farmers that get lease contracts do not get the opportunity to obtain title deeds for their farms and are doomed to be perpetual tenants.
- Due to the lack of surety and ownership of the farms they do not have security and cannot obtain access to financing.
- The uncertainty about the right to utilise the land makes it impossible to optimally invest in their farms and boreholes, fencing, life stock facilities and orchards or irrigation remains out of the question because the state often tries to remove the farmers or forces the farmers to share their farms with other persons.
The widespread occurrence of the removal of successful emerging farmers from state farms by officials to provide access to land for well-connected cadres recently created serious tension in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. Saai and AfriForum started legal actions to ensure proper administration and transparency and Minister Thoko Didiza from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development has undertaken that this will not happen again. The officials in her department, however, are not honouring this undertaking by the minister.
Many farmers that are farming successfully on state land are suffering from illegal occupations, trespassing and people that are hijacking a portion of their land to settle or start their own farming operation. The police generally view this as political actions instead of an offence and believe that the department should address these problems.
The unwillingness and inability of the state to protect the basic interests, property and rights of beneficiaries of its policies are the main reason why a class of profitable black farmers have not yet emerged in the country. Dr Theo de Jager, Chairperson of the Board of Saai, says that it is of national interest that black farmers get ownership of the state farms they are utilising, “or else we will again in ten years have two classes of farmers in the country – white farmers that own their land and black farmers that are leasing from the state. Nobody understands why the state does not trust its citizens with ownership. They do not even get lease agreements. By maintaining uncertainty about property rights, by not awarding contracts at all or through an approach of perpetual lease contracts, the state creates a dependency trap from which emerging farmers cannot escape.”
Barend Uys, Head of Intercultural Relations and Cooperation at AfriForum, says that the civil rights organisation and Saai are involved with agricultural development projects in collaboration with traditional leaders in deep rural areas and understand how challenging it is to support communities and individuals, that have little or no experience in commercial agriculture and limited access to financial resources, to farm successfully. “The state’s failure to provide farmers, that are currently successfully farming on state land, surety about the land they are utilising is a threat to both wealth creation and food security and creates suspicion about the state’s commitment to ensuring the success of emerging farmers. It is very clear that the state does not have the ability to manage the land it currently owns, therefore, to even speak about the expansion of state property, though, for example expropriation, is simply irrational,” says Uys.