Letter: The right figures on land - Business Day

Aug 31, 2018
31 August 2018 - Rational debate (is) something that requires a firm grasp of the facts. It is not only President Donald Trump who needs to be held to that standard.

Regarding the Financial Times editorial published in Business Day, "Why SA needs land reform legislation" (August 28), the issue needs rational debate, something that requires a firm grasp of the facts. It is not only President Donald Trump who needs to be held to that standard.

A prime example is the widely cited distortion of information relating to landholding in SA. Contrary to the FT editorial, an official audit did not find that "72% of farms and agricultural holdings in SA are owned by whites and 24% by nonwhites", nor is only 4% owned by Africans.

The so-called land audit revealed that assigning a racial identity to ownership was impossible for well over two-thirds of SA’s rural land — acreage and not farm units, as the FT implies … most is owned by the state, and by companies, trusts and community property associations.

Land held by private individuals, and registered at the deeds office amounts to around 31%.

Under colonial and apartheid rule, freehold title was typically denied to Africans.

Land they did have access to was held "in trust" by the state or traditional leaders.

This has continued well after the advent of democracy in the country.

The upshot is that most of the landholdings to which Africans have "access" — as well as most of the land transferred to them through land reform initiatives (around 6% of SA’s area) — are not reflected in the oft-cited racial breakdown.

This supports a narrative that land reform has failed to such an extent that only the comprehensive empowerment of the state with deeply intrusive powers over property rights will be adequate for success.

Hence the ruling party’s demand for a policy of expropriation without compensation. No firm plans have been advanced, and only vague, nonbinding assurances have been put forward.

As a policy idea, it has been vigorously promoted by many political leaders and shows every sign of developing a momentum that will be difficult to contain.

Terence Corrigan Project manager, Institute of Race Relations


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