Some possible solutions to enable the success of land reform – 27 years on….

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South Africa continues to grapple with land reform challenges.

Discussions about the land reform programme have now been reduced to belligerent rhetoric, and the current solutions presented on land reform do not adequately address the fundamental challenges that continue to cripple the land reform programme.

There has been a lot of heated discussion about amending Section 25 of the Constitution to give effect to land expropriation without compensation. This article does not wish to get into the merits of this argument, but rather caution against the temptation to believe that legislative amendments to the Constitution would serve as a magic wand that will lead to a successful land reform programme.

Peter Setou, Chief Executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund, a non-profit organisation that helps beneficiaries of the land reform programme to develop their land in an effective and sustainable way says, “As important as the legislative changes may be, it is also important to look beyond tinkering with the letter of the law. We need to take a hard and critical look at the state of land reform in South Africa, draw lessons from what has worked thus far and from other countries that have embarked on this journey and develop practical solutions that will benefit both the land reform beneficiaries and economy of the country.”

There is a general consensus that the land reform programme has failed to yield the expected results over the past 27 years, and that there aren’t enough support mechanisms to create a framework to foster community private partnerships in the land reform space. Findings by several studies on why land reform has failed has found that, among other factors, the application of a one-size-fits-all approach presupposes the homogeneity of beneficiaries to the land restitution, and this in turn breeds conflict. We must learn from this to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Setou says, “A lack of effective post settlement support including lack of key ingredients required to run restored farms successfully, lack of capacity within government to implement programmes, poor coordination amongst respective government departments charged with supporting beneficiaries, poor monitoring and evaluation and policy uncertainty have also been identified as impediments to a successful land reform programme.”

The question is how can we address the challenges identified to ensure that the land reform programme becomes a sustainable and successful reality for all stakeholders? A collaborative effort involving all key stakeholders is required if we are to make any meaningful progress and impact.

According to Setou, historically budget allocations to land reform have fallen far short of what is required to speed up land reform and provide post-settlement support to the beneficiaries of the land reform process.

He highlights that, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic dealt another blow to the land reform programme. The current economic climate severely hinders government’s ability to augment funding for land reform as government prioritised funding towards other critical areas to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The state has limited resources available at its disposal and the outbreak of the coronavirus has broadened areas of expenditure which has further curtailed the government’s ability to allocate much-needed resources to the land reform programme.

“The private sector through partnerships and philanthropists have a big role to play in supporting efforts to contribute to the land reform programme. These role players have a crucial role to play in plugging the gap created by government’s inability to fully fund the land reform programme.”

Setou cites that, “Without a doubt, the private sector can bring value to the land reform ecosystem, including skills and the financial support needed to boost the performance of first time landowners, expose land reform beneficiaries to markets for export opportunities as has been seen among some land reform beneficiary communities such as the Ebenhaeser CPA that is currently exporting pumpkins to the Netherlands – thanks to its private partnership with the Stellar Group.”

He highlights that, it is important that a conducive environment is creative to entice the private sector to invest into land reform. The private sector is driven by commercial interests and investors make calculated risks to ascertain if they can get a return on their investment. There is a definite need to bring about policy certainty in order to promote successful land reform.

“The current policy environment in the land reform space does not do much to instil confidence in the private sector,” notes Setou.

“Government has an important role to play in creating a conducive and enabling environment for the effective participation of the private sector in land reform. This needs to be addressed expeditiously to ensure that land reform addresses the aspirations of the majority of South Africans. This is also the quickest way in which beneficiaries of land reform can be part of the broader value chain thus promoting inclusivity,” concludes Setou.