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The Complex And Contentious Land Reform- South Africa

South Africa’s land expropriation debate continues to roil everyone from farmers to foreign investors and financial institutions. What has the government done to address land reform?  

 It’s a five-hour drive from Johannesburg to Smithfield in the Free State province of South Africa. As we arrive, the sun is shining its warm golden hue over 1,200 hectares of Eddie Prinsloo’s land. As we drive on the long dirt road towards the farm house, the smell of manure hangs thickly in the air. On the right is a beautiful view of the mountains towards Lesotho. It is quiet and peaceful here but debates about white-owned farms are getting louder and louder.

The issue of land in South Africa is big. Many black South Africans were pushed off commercial farms and even denied opportunities to own land during white colonial rule. 

Most black South Africans say they want land. The African National Congress (ANC) government agrees. It wants to change the Constitution to make it possible to take land from white farmers and give it back to black South Africans. It is calling it expropriation of land without compensation.

“The ANC will, through a parliamentary process, finalize a proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected. The intention of this proposal is to promote redress, advance economic development, increase agricultural production and food security,” said South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa after the ruling party’s two-day National Executive Committee (NEC) Lekgotla in South Africa’s capital, Tshwane.

This news sent shivers down the spines of farmers, banks and some investors. The government is however adamant expropriation without compensation should happen to give opportunities to the blacks who had land unjustly taken from them.

Prinsloo, a white man who started sheep farming in 1974 when he inherited the farm from his father, says he is one of the few farmers already trying to empower blacks. We meet him in his thatched office. Awards and photographs of sheep hang on the wall.

Two years ago, he asked the government to buy one of his four farms on condition it will give it to his nine workers.

“In 1994, I wanted to give my people a farm because they sell a lot especially to the Lesotho people. That is their part of the business… In 2016, I offered the 1,500-hectare farm to the government on condition that my workers will be the new owners and they get title deeds,” says Prinsloo.
The process took two years. It worked. Currently, the farmworkers have 49% shareholding in the farm, while Prinsloo retains 51%.

“I will help them by training them on the business side of farming and letting them use my equipment for their sheep. Black farmers are good farmers, they do all the work but they don’t know about accounting and other stuff but these things can be taught. I want them to know every aspect of this business so that they are able to run their own farms,” says Prinsloo.

According to Prinsloo, who is fourth generation South African, the longest-serving workers will get more shares to the farm compared to newcomers.

“The government was very supportive. It just took too long and I almost sold the farm to another farmer who wanted to do this with my employees.”

Asked about his views on Ramaphosa’s plan for expropriation of land without compensation, Prinsloo does not appear worried.

“It has never scared me. I believe that before the elections, [the ANC] makes a lot of scary announcements but I have never been scared. I think it will just go on as we farm now. I don’t think it’s fair to expropriate land without compensation. Seventy five percent of all black people want to become a part of agriculture but only one percent wants to farm,” he says.

Prinsloo says his fear is that when people get things without paying for them, they would not value or look after them.

“The government must now give the black people who want farms a low interest rate so they can be able to buy land. In the old days, there was Agri bank. It helped poor farmers who couldn’t get a loan from the land bank. The government must bring it back.”

Prinsloo however says he is against farmers who have land here but are living overseas leaving the land unattended.

“Those farms should be taken and given to black people, like my staff members, who deserve it.”

Palesa Phantsi is one of Prinsloo’s workers set to benefit from this deal with the government. She has worked as a maid for Prinsloo since January 2012.

“I am so happy that I am getting land. I never thought this would ever happen in my life. Now, I will grow and be able to do many things I couldn’t do before,” says Phantsi.

Lebogang Phomane is another employee set to benefit from this initiative. He walks us around the sheep kraal showing us what his day-to-day work with sheep entails. He has worked for Prinsloo for 30 years and knows most of the work except the administrative side.


“I am so happy because a lot of farmers don’t do this kind of thing. When he started talking about it two years ago, I didn’t believe him. Now he is helping us create our own legacy. I stopped going to school in grade nine so this is going to be life-changing,” says Phomane.
Prinsloo says he will train these soon-to-be land owners on the business side of sheep farming and even help them with equipment and a place to sell their sheep or wool.

This initiative has won him a lot of support but also criticism. One of those against his actions is BLF, a South African political party founded in 2015.

“This is a scheme by whites to hide the fact that the likes of Prinsloo gets paid for stolen land. There is no prescription for historical land theft – and the white Prinsloo still benefited by selling the stolen land. This is a clear indication of the impunity with which whites continue to act – they will never return land without receiving payment,” says Free State Chairperson Luyolo Busakwe.

Millions of people lost land during colonisation in South Africa.

According to Professor Ruth Hall, from the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, between 1984 and end 1993, 1,832,000 blacks were displaced from commercial farms and 737,000 were evicted from farms.

The numbers get worse. From 1994 to the end of 2004, 2,351,000 people were displaced from farms and 942,000 were evicted. After attaining democracy, the government started a land reform initiative to give land to those who had lost it. Some of the displaced were placed in other farms but 3,716,000 were permanently displaced and 1,586,000 permanently evicted.

In the Free State, where Prinsloo lives, there hasn’t been a lot of land redistribution. It is number three from the bottom on the list of land distribution numbers across South Africa’s nine provinces. Only about 400,000 hectares of land have been redistributed here. For some of those who received land, it ushered in years of court proceedings, pain, fear and poverty. 

READ the full story on the link on top.  


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