“Land Dilemma for Zimbabwe’s Farmers”
(from the South African Farmer’s Weekly March 29, 1991)
“The fairy-tale ending of the independence war in Zimbabwe ten years ago, with its emphasis on reconciliation between black and white … has been rudely shattered. The cause is the state’s pronouncements on land ownership since the recent termination of the Lancaster House Constitution.
Black workers on white-owned farms are worried that farm take-overs will threaten their livelihoods. Among white farmers, there is a growing feeling the government has finally decided to run roughshod over their interests. In terms of the latest amendments to the country’s constitution, the state can legally take over any property at a compensation to be determined by itself and at a price that cannot be challenged by arbitration or in court.
Large-scale commercial farmers, almost all of them white, own nearly 29% of Zimbabwe’s utilized land. But they produce marketed products worth nearly two billion dollars a year and support more than 1,5 million black workers and their families on their farms.
Farmers foresee their highly-productive additional farms being reduced to small plots of 4 –5 hectares each for settlement by subsistence tribesmen, inevitably with resultant erosion, degradation and a massive loss of potential output.
Agriculture Minister Dr. Witness Mangwende has assured white farmers the government is willing to discuss the procedure of land take-overs. Once a white farmer has relocated elsewhere, his new farm would not be expropriated. (Emphasis ours) White farmers’ strongest criticism is that the present government is unable to give an assurance as to how the powers will be used in future. The powers (of expropriation) will be very wide and vested in one minister and outside the scrutiny of the courts.
The minister warned the white farmers not to use the issue of farm workers as an excuse to maintain the status quo. “Government must redress the imbalances of the past in the interests of both political and economic stability”, said Dr. Mangwende.”
At the time, the greatest problem for Zimbabwe’s commercial farmers was the potential loss of production to the country and the plight of their black workers. Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what was in store for the country known as “the breadbasket of Africa” – the terror, the murders, rapes and tortures, the famine, the destruction of the judiciary, the arbitrary closures of the media and the huge and obscene profligacy of the ruling clique while their citizens starved.
Could it happen here in South Africa? You bet it could, unless South Africa’s citizens stand up and do something now, not later. The Zimbabwe government’s assurances and the guarantees are eerily repeated in today’s South Africa, and it is not “pessimistic” at all to wonder whether we could end up a second Zimbabwe.
Some Points to Ponder
- “The greatest danger in respect of land reform is not official action – it is official incapacity to support new small farmers. It seems very unlikely that the Department of Agriculture will be able to establish a level of support services to ensure that rural slum conditions on redistributed land will be avoided.”
- “In no area inhabited by blacks were there any systems of individual freehold of land. There were only guaranteed rights of usage inside the territory of tribal leaders. The different tribal groups were separated by large sectors of uninhabited land so that the constant sub-division of tribes and the occupation by them of uninhabited land was possible. Because of the slow southward movement of tribes, a specific area was seldom inhabited for more than fifty years by the same people. The same area would frequently be inhabited by different tribes one after the other. If war between these tribes – through which tribal cohesion was sometimes destroyed – is taken into account, the question arises as to just how long a certain vaguely-defined piece of land would have to be inhabited before a legal right to that land would be established.”
- There were 20 000 job losses in South Africa in the first quarter of 2003. Less than 6,5 million of South Africa’s 44,8 million people were formally employed by March 2003. South Africa’s third-largest singular employer group is the agricultural sector – although it now employs less than 600 000 people, down by 420 000 since 1992. The October 2001 census shows an estimated South African population of 44,8 million, up from 40,6 million in October 1996, with 79% African, 9,6% European, 2,5% Asian and 8,9% Coloured. The Census estimated that, overall, 43,9% of the SA population surveyed was “economically inactive”. The African population has 47,1% unemployment.
- South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by 54% between 1996 and 2003. The total number of unemployed people increased by 136%. Yet the total number of employed people rose by 25% in the same period. In other words, there were some 2,3 million more jobs in 2003 than there were in 1996. Why so much unemployment?
- There are successful black farmers, and their achievements are often noted in the media. In most of the cases we investigated, they had used their own money (or they had invested a substantial shareholding in their farms). They had listened to and taken advice, and had sought out people who could help them. Various sustainable systems for small-scale farming have been developed by academics and agricultural practitioners, and if the government would use these, and ensure that the methods are adhered to, there is a chance that sustainable small-scale farming could work.
“Professor Frits Rijkenberg of the University of Natal’s Centre for Rural Development Systems has developed a project that aims to foster sustainable, resource-efficient small-scale farming with the goal of encouraging the rural poor to uplift themselves throughout agriculture.” - Farmer’s Weekly, 4 July 2003.
- South Africa’s commercial farmers are among the best in the world, if not the best. They have to contend with a plethora of problems – the vagaries of the weather, constant drought, rising taxes on everything from the rain on their trees to municipal levies (for which they receive nothing), and excessively high toll road costs. South Africa’s land tenure laws make it difficult to dismiss workers, let alone remove these workers from their properties, and they are besieged by land invasions and squatters. They are the victims of crop and stock theft, more murders per capita of their group than any other community on earth. They are burnt out, their fences are destroyed, and they are intimidated to the point where many have abandoned their farms. The government’s minimum wage policy has resulted in a fifty-percent drop in farm labour numbers, and many of these ex-employees now wander the cities looking for work.
“It is said that white farmers currently own 87% of South Africa’s land. When one deducts the 25% owned by the government, the remaining figure of 62% must be viewed against a background of other vital factors. Less than 12% of SA’s land is suitable for cultivation. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of only 464 mm, against a world average of 857 mm. Twenty one percent of the country has a total rainfall of less than 200 mm annually, 48% between 200 mm and 600 mm, while only 31% records more than 600 mm. Thus 65% of the country has an average annual rainfall of 500 mm – usually regarded as the absolute minimum for successful dry-land farming.”
“Some of the best and most fertile, high rainfall land in South Africa is found in six traditional black areas, but most farmers there produce only for their own consumption. More than 70% of South Africa, including more than 100 medium-sized towns, is dependent on underground water sources, tapped through the use of sophisticated borehole equipment. This represents about 13% of all the water used in the country. It should be remembered that huge tracts of land in South Africa, particularly in the northern areas, would be completely useless if it were not for these deep boreholes. Cattle farming in these areas depends almost completely on these underground water sources.
South Africa’s greatest export is topsoil, which is stripped away at a rate four times higher than the world average, and 20 times faster than it can be replaced. Thousands of tons of eroded earth disappear into oceans every year. Most of this scourge is due to poor land management.”
- Mr. Willie Lewies, TAU-SA Vice President, The Citizen 19 May 2000
- South African agricultural technology is world-renowned. The Zebediela Estate in the Limpopo province, for example, was a world leader in modern citrus production. Every week, farm magazines contain details of some new experiment or innovation or patent registered or, significantly, some new theft preventative or innovative security measure.
South Africa’s mohair farmers are the world’s best. The country’s sugarcane industry is world-class, as is (was) its agricultural and veterinary scientific endeavours. In contrast to most of Africa, Western-style farm technology and methods have more than doubled South Africa’s agricultural production during the past 30 years. South African agriculture earns around R25 billion in foreign exchange each year.
- Many academics concerned about land reform place the emphasis on settling millions of peasants onto farm land. In the numerous tomes presented at conferences and summits, and repeated in South Africa’s media, this ideology wins the day. The reason for this resettlement policy is “poverty alleviation”, but no empirical data is given proving this notion to be successful. Whole sectors at South Africa’s academic community are devoted to this premise. We have found that the government’s “resettlement” policy in point of fact creates more poverty. We wonder why so much money is spent on theorizing about the purported efficacy of resettlement without any academic institution actually investigating the results of government’s handover policy, which we have now done, albeit without a bevy of researchers and unlimited funding. This would have been a salutary exercise for South Africa’s academic community to undertake! Surely the “poverty alleviation” theory should be backed by hard evidence that it works? In addition, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s) spend their time and their overseas-funded budgets supporting and indeed initiating the handover of productive farmland in South Africa to the so-called dispossessed. These groups, one of which is the Nkuzi Development Association, are actively involved in pressing communities to claim land, whatever the consequences. Are the taxpayers in Norway, Denmark, Britain, Canada and the United States not concerned that their money is used to reduce farm production in South Africa? The activities of these NGO’s could eventually result in serious food shortages in South Africa. Are these same governments prepared to feed 45 million people when famine strikes this part of the world?
- Do young black people really want to farm? Not according to an informal think tank meeting conducted at the invitation of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s regional office in Harare, Zimbabwe. This get-together was held in Pretoria on 1 and 2 March 2003 and was attended by international land reform and agricultural luminaries from the United Kingdom, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, South African university academics, and representatives from Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Senegal. They declared they wanted to analyse the constraints of sustainable land reform. Despite apartheid and colonialism, they said, it was becoming increasingly difficult for donors to justify the allocation of aid resources to land reform in southern Africa. (This is of course reflected in the South African government’s paucity of funding for land reform. After the Zimbabwe experience, countries are not going to throw good money after bad.)
A rigorous re-examination of the economic rationale for redistribution is essential. Hard evidence is required if current dysfunctional policies are to be challenged and alternative paradigms advanced.” (Italics ours).
This we believe we have accomplished with this book, at least as a start. Small-scale farming came under the microscope. The committee declared that this type of farming could not compete production-wise, locally or in world markets, with large-scale commercial farming. Post-transfer support (or the lack of it) came in for a drubbing. There has been a movement away from small-scale farming in Africa, said the committee, and the question they asked is – do today’s young people (say 15 – 45 years) want to be farmers? This of course was a rhetorical question, because evidence throughout Africa shows young people want jobs, and they eschew the agricultural life. Our research revealed a disappointment by older black people in the young people of today who are in many instances seen as worthless, lazy and unprepared to do a day’s work. The last two years have seen a discernible increase in the number of youths involved in crime, and particularly young men. (Citizen 12 September 2003) This is borne out by the fact that most if not all crimes against farmers are committed by young black men. Indeed, most of the crimes committed in South Africa are by the same group, according to political observer Dan Roodt. His column to this effect was spiked by the liberal Afrikaans newspaper Rapport editor Tim du Plessis. Pity, because it is the truth and it needs to be publicly declared.
- It is a disgrace that America’s wealthy Ford Foundation funds local land NGO’s in their efforts to encourage people to claim productive farmland, in many cases without a legal basis. In one instance, the South African Legal Resources Center, heavily funded by this American foundation, has kept up its legal fight against South African farmers in the Mabaalstat case. The Baphiring community/tribe owned 7 000 hectares and, upon removal, received 17 000 hectares of prime agricultural land, together with monetary compensation and infrastructure. Now they are claiming back the 7 000 hectares although the chief of the Baphiring tribe testified in court that he will not relinquish one inch of the 17 000 hectares. Land claim legislation specifies that if compensation was granted after a removal, then there is no valid claim. So far it has cost farmers who are rejecting this claim R800 000, while those who are instituting a frivolous claim pay not a penny in legal fees! We will be investigating the role of the Ford Foundation and other overseas funders of land claimants in the coming year.
- What about land reform in other countries?
From our research, one glaring fact is apparent. Land reform depends on the ability and willingness of the recipients to farm, or to adapt to farming. Chile for example introduced serious land reform in 1958 where land barons’ farms were split up and given to small farmers. This eventuated in a four-phase process, and with the exception of the third phase under communist President Salvador Allende, the process was successful. The old owners were compensated, and technical assistance and research was introduced to help the new owners. During the fourth phase under the government of Augusto Pinochet, land was set aside for the indigenous Indian population. Chile now has the most advanced economy in South America - the majority of its population is educated and hard-working.
During a question and answer session at a recent seminar on land invasions held at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, Mr. Edward Lahiff of the University of the Western Cape was asked where land reform was successful. He mentioned his own country Ireland, and certain Asian lands. Ireland’s history was always one of a political struggle for land, but its people adapted to modern farming because they had the innate capacity to do so. Such was the case in Asia. Most Asians are hard workers. The example of South Korea’s rise from the ashes in salutary. In the mid-1950s, Korea’s per capita income was $146 (on a par with Ghana and Nigeria). It had come out of 35 years of Japanese colonization, and was plunged into a civil war which left 25% of the population as refugees.
With no resources and virtually no agricultural economy and a population of 45 million (74% of whom were illiterate), it changed into the 12th largest economy in the world within 40 years. It had become the second largest shipbuilder in the world, and the fourth largest maker of electronics in the world. It was the planet’s largest steel producer while it’s GDP grew on average at 9.1/2% per annum. (Business Day Oct. 4, 2002) The small island of Hokkaido is Japan’s most productive agricultural area – it produces 11% of the country’s food. There are 5,6 million people on this island, the size of Pennsylvania. Hokkaido is subject to frequent earthquakes (the last one was in September 2003). The average farmer plot is 16,1 hectares. Hokkaido’s land reform program consisted of developing the land from scratch, and placing farmers on small plots as far back as the turn of the previous century. Why does Hokkaido work? Because the people make it work, just as the Japanese have created one of the world’s leading economies on a rocky, earthquake-prone series of islands, with few natural resources.
Contrast this with Brazil, one of the largest countries in area in the world. One per cent of Brazil’s farmers own 46% of the country’s arable land. (Reported during the Earth Summit in September 2002). Agri-business in Brazil accounts for 27% of the country’s GDP. But in early 2002, the Brazilian government succumbed to peasant violence and pressure and introduced a land reform program which was to liberate millions.
This program was a monumental failure. It was precipitated with farm invasions. In one of the most ambitious land reform programs ever, Brazil parceled out 18 million hectares to 542,000 families – nearly 2 million people. It cost the Brazilian taxpayers $6,5 billion, and these peasants were supposed to become “family farmers”. The Landless Workers Movement was at the forefront of the land invasions and farm violence which forced the Brazilian government’s hand. (This same movement was in South Africa giving advice to local land activists!) What Newsweek (21 January 2002) calls “partial surveys” revealed that in some areas, up to half of the new landowners left their plots - Newsweek declared that most new settlers were welfare cases. “The vast majority cannot feed themselves. Their collective output doesn’t even get tallied into Brazil’s $80 billion a year agricultural production.”
In the last three decades, Brazil became an agricultural powerhouse. Large-scale commercial farming produced the 100 million tons of crops which brought in the annual $80 billion. This commercial farm sector accounts for 61% of Brazil’s internationally-traded farm goods. As in South Africa, most of the hand-over farms collapsed. Equipment rusted, people didn’t pay for electricity. And as in South Africa, political activists purported to speak for “disinherited” Brazilians and said that land reform “shouldn’t be measured by an economic yardstick”. The present government of Luiz Lula da Silva is under pressure to fast track more land reform, despite the disasters of the past.
Brazil’s indigenous Indians have now invaded border farmland. They have claimed 12% of the country’s productive farms. (BBC, 9 January 2004). Where a country has a mass of people who are virtually unemployable, they cry for land as a last resort. They do not have the capabilities to become involved in other aspects of their country’s economy. They are unskilled and cannot compete. Western people in countries like the US, Canada and Australia, for example, do not demand land, even though they are landless. They are employable in other sectors of the economy. Only 2% of the US population farms, while the rest work in that country’s other sectors. South Africa is unfortunately similar to Brazil, Venezuela and Peru (where 50% of the population lives in extreme poverty and where infant mortality is 78%).
- We do not have the space to discuss Zimbabwe. Everyone in South Africa knows about that country’s horrors and terrors, and the softly-softly approach to the tyranny by the South African government. It gives many South Africans pause for thought – if the SA government finds little to complain about north of the border, what are they prepared to permit in a future South Africa?
But the government’s policy of land reform is also a black empowerment policy. The same principle applies. Farms are given to unskilled people just as cushy jobs are handed to unqualified blacks. Those blacks who can farm and are competent to run a company are penalised because of this. The whole process is skewed and, ultimately, dishonest, and it is little wonder foreign investment is shaky. So many commentators both here and overseas find the SA government’s policies “unfathomable”, a word used often. Robert Mugabe’s behaviour is unfathomable, of course, but it is unfathomable to people not of his mindset. Are those in charge of South Africa of the same turn of thought? Let us hope not.
Journalist Stephen Mulholland wrote in 2001 that “the greedy rob the wealthy”. There is a ratio of 11:1 of voters to taxpayers. In the USA the ratio is approximately 2: 1. (Sunday Times 23 September 2001) In February 2002, journalist Matthew Lester reported that there were 3,4 million individual taxpayers in South Africa who take on the burden of R90 billion of individual taxes out of a total tax collection of R233 billion. (Business Times February 10, 2002).
This statistic excludes the substantial additional taxes that are paid by individual taxpayers by way of VAT. These individual taxpayers represent only 9% of the population, but they are the people with some real power, and they should be heard. They should speak out for this country’s agricultural sector. Business should also be up in arms, because dozens if not scores of towns throughout South Africa will disappear if agriculture fails. Businesses will then be taxed further to make up the shortfall.
A well-known media commentator was recently heard to say that what is happening on South Africa’s farms “is a small price to pay for stability in South Africa”. Well, it is not a small price, and stability will not be guaranteed if famine stares us in the face. It is time to act, South Africa. Reject farm expropriations, and demand that those farms already destroyed be resuscitated. In the end, we are all in this together.