Land audit does not tell us all we need to know - News24

11 February 2018 - Much has been made of the apparently paltry landholdings of black South Africans, at 1.2% of farmland and 7% of formally registered urban land. Taken at face value, this suggests that neither government’s land reform initiatives, nor market-based transactions, have had any noticeable impact on black people’s asset base

 

By Terence Corrigan 

The land audit undertaken by government could potentially be a valuable tool for understanding the patterns of ownership and acquisition in South Africa. It could also help us to come up with solutions. Regrettably, this may not be the case.

Much has been made of the apparently paltry landholdings of black South Africans, at 1.2% of farmland and 7% of formally registered urban land. Taken at face value, this suggests that neither government’s land reform initiatives, nor market-based transactions, have had any noticeable impact on black people’s asset base.

This is questionable. The most notable finding of the audit is just how much is not known. That the audit could not identify a racial identity for the owners of two thirds of South Africa’s land shows just how complicated this issue is.

Indeed, we would argue that it is precisely a lack of property rights for black people in the past – and hence the lack of title – that understates the landholdings of black South Africans. This has been compounded by government policy in recent years, which has actually been to deny ownership to the beneficiaries of land redistribution schemes, and instead allow them access to the land as tenants. It is a tragic irony that large parts of our population continue to be denied the benefits of secure property ownership.

More than this, if land is to be a means of livelihood and dignity, then a focus on size and percentages of the country’s landmass is counterproductive. If acreage was the key concern, then great progress could be achieved simply by buying up large tracts in the arid Northern Cape. Simple. But – for good reason – government has not tended to seek properties for land reform purposes there. More fertile and better-watered lands in the eastern part of the country make much better prospects for farming.

Agri SA’s study of land ownership patterns found that some 46% of the agricultural potential of the country was owned by black people and by the state. This suggests a far more positive picture for emerging farmers than the land audit.

Unfortunately, whatever the merits of its data, the land audit’s reported recommendations would do little to advance land reform. Nationalising all land would simply reduce all land owners, and prospective land owners, to tenants of the state. No farmer – black or white, emerging or established – nor presumably urban residents, would really own their land. This would perpetuate some of the worst features of our history.

What South Africa needs is a rationally designed and properly funded land reform programme that understands the complexities and nuances of land and agriculture in South Africa. It must be a plan that empowers landowners, especially emergent ones, with the secure property rights that they have long been denied.

*Terence Corrigan is policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relation, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.

Read the letter on News24 here.

 

 

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