Female land reform beneficiaries speak up on their challenges and the need for support to drive the success of the land reform programme

Government-driven land reform programmes will falter if women from beneficiary communities do not play a central role in the governance of communal property associations (CPAs) and the programme is not accompanied by financial and technical support.

These sentiments have been expressed by women members of CPAs. CPAs are the landholding and juristic institutions that acquire, hold and manage property on behalf of the beneficiary communities.

According to figures from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, the land reform processes resulted in the transfer of approximately 7.4 million hectares of land, 3.1 million hectares via restitution and 4.4 million hectares via redistribution programmes between 1994 and 2014.

These 7.4 million hectares contribute 30% to the country’s land reform target for 2014 of 24.6 million hectares and constitute only 9% of the 82 million hectares privately owned by commercial farmers in South Africa. The proportion of women in these landholding entities remains very low.

Neo Mahabane, Secretary of the Barokologadi CPA in the North West Province, says many CPAs are dysfunctional because of a lack of funding and skills, and in some instances because of government red tape. While on the one hand government tries to empower, it equally disempowers.

Barokologadi CPA was established in 1996 and serves the communities of De Brak, Obakeng, Maretlwane and Pitsedisulejang, and four adjacent villages. The Barokologadi CPA owns just over 26 166 hectares of that land in the North West, including 16 000 hectares located inside the Madikwe Game Reserve.

 We were given our ancestral land but nothing much was done by our government to bring us on board, especially in the development of that land. We have been reallocated the land, but the government is doing little to capacitate communities, many of which are indigent. Government needs to assist the CPAs so that they can stand on their own and develop the land and make it productive. Handing over land to beneficiary communities and walking away will not resolve the land issue; communities need support, ensuring that land uplifts and provides the comfort that people believe it will provide,” says Mahabane.

She concedes that despite being the primary caregivers, women still play negligible roles in many CPAs. “It would be helpful if development programmes were put in place to empower and educate women on the importance of the land, so that they can participate meaningfully in structures such as the CPAs. We need interventions such as training programmes, forums and workshops, where women can be empowered,” she said.

Mahabane highlighted that, “Women are afraid to participate in these strategic roles within CPA structures because they lack the skills and feel disempowered to be on a CPA committee, so they would not volunteer to participate because of lack of knowledge and skills. I have been fortunate that my male counterparts have played a crucial role in supporting me in this role, but not all women have the same support structures.”

Madelien van Niekerk, Chairperson of Ebenhaeser CPA in the Western Cape, echoes the sentiments.

Van Nierkek says, “Women are often inclined to remain on the sidelines of the day-to-day management of the CPAs, as they perceive land reform to be the sole preserve of their male counterparts.

“There is a huge opportunity for women to play a key role in the land reform programme, but this requires a mindset change through education and training. The management of the land is not just men’s business. There is a bright future for women in agriculture, but they must know that it takes hard work to get there, it is not just for the taking,” explains Van Niekerk.

The Ebenhaeser CPA owns approximately 18,283 hectares of land in the Western Cape, along the N7 which runs from Cape Town to Namibia. This CPA is one of the biggest land claims in South Africa after government allocated R233 million for the purchase of the farms in the area, which includes vineyards.

Van Niekerk adds that while women are very slowly starting to play a part in land reform structures, a lot of support is required to uplift them and change perceptions and stereotypes around the roles of men and women.

“We must engage in conversations that foster confidence in women holding so-called male roles, and reframe these social constructs to empower women. Being a chairperson/ chairman here is still seen as a man’s job. Even women here think that a woman cannot be a chairperson. We need a mindset shift. Women can do this.

 “Knowledge, support and funding remain crucial, as these will ensure continuity and the productive use of the land. The key is that what is promised by government must be delivered. Restitution must be accompanied by funding and support from a knowledge and skills perspective. These are some of the challenges that continue to stand in the way of productive utilisation of the land,” she says.

Maria Magagula, Secretary of Mswati CPA, says negligible participation by women in the CPAs and the land reform programme represents a missed opportunity for the agricultural sector and beneficiary communities.

“There is enough room to grow women’s participation in the agricultural sector. Women bring a different perspective to any role, and we need to make sure that we get that balance right, because the impact that women can make in communities is immeasurable. They can make a meaningful contribution to the growth of the agricultural sector, and within the CPA structures of land reform truly unlock the potential inherent in these structures. It is critical that CPAs review their structures by ensuring that they are inclusive of women and young people, who represent the next generation of beneficiaries. CPAs represent another vehicle for the advancement and empowerment of women and young people,” says Magagula.

Mswati CPA was registered in 1998 and is one of the early redistribution projects implemented under what was referred to at the time as the Settlement and Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) of the land reform programme. The CPA has 130 family beneficiaries, mainly comprising households that were small-scale farmers who were historically farming on irrigation schemes established under the former Kangwane Government and were initially organised under the Mswati Farmers’ Association.

She says though government invested massive capital in securing these farms from previous owners, there was no corresponding investment in capacitating the beneficiary communities.

“Many beneficiary communities were not supported to enable them to produce on a commercial scale, and to provide the necessary equipment needed for the land to be profitable. With more support, especially technical equipment, a lot more can be done to scale up what the community is doing now and produce for the national market and beyond. Until now many CPAs have to learn on the go, and this does not bode well for the long-term sustainability of the land,” she says.

She adds that the right resources in farming can help women maximise economic opportunities and improve food security for their community.

Peter Setou, Chief Executive of Vumelana Advisory Fund, a non-profit organisation that supports beneficiaries of land reform to make their land successful, says successful agrarian reform and land restitution programmes require an inclusive and multi-pronged approach in order to succeed.

 To date Vumelana has supported 20 CPAs across the country, comprising of 15 000 household; among them including Barokologadi, Mswati and Ebenhaeser CPAs.

According to Setou, “Land reform is not just a question of the state buying back the land and allocating it to beneficiary communities. Post settlement conditions for land reform beneficiaries must be improved. Equally, there is a need to address the gender gap within the CPA structures and ensure that good governance practices are followed as part of this.”

 He said, “Our aim is to continue in efforts to get additional support for CPAs to ensure productive and sustainable use of land.”

“Of importance to note is that all stakeholders have a role to play in this. There are wide opportunities for private investors to support land reform beneficiaries, through skills transfer, community-private partnerships and financial seeding ventures.” highlighted Setou.




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