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Land Reform In South Africa: Why It’s Needed And Difficult

South Africa is a country of great beauty, filled with untapped potential. It is a country with a complicated and dark history. Like most formerly colonial Africa, it was a site of racism, overt capitalism, and violence. The year 1994 marked the beginning of a new era for the country as the African National Congress won the first democratic elections, claiming the majority of political power. Nelson Mandela ascended to become the first president of democracy in its infancy. Time has not stood still, the country has progressed in some quarters but in a lot of instances, there has been no change. The big problem of land reform still rears its head. During the fight against apartheid, land reform was an issue that was at the forefront. It was one of the things that a black government would reclaim because the black people of South Africa had been dispossessed of their land. A Land Audit Report of 2017 by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform of South Africa details how 72% of agricultural land is owned by white people yet they only form 7.8% of the population. The majority of the country, black people, who made up 80.8% of the population, owned 4% at the same time. Out of all the racial groups in South Africa, black people own the least land. There is clearly an unfair disparity. A more even distribution of the land is needed to ensure everyone in the country benefits from it. 

Fully-fledged land reform has been a necessity in the South African context. There have been successful instances of reclamations of land. Some families regained their ancestral land while others chose to receive remuneration instead of the land itself. This kind of land reform is good but it is nowhere near enough. Proper land reform is needed but has not been carried out for several reasons. One of the reasons is because of legalities. Property rights in South Africa are protected by section 25 of the Constitution of the country. At the moment, land may not be simply taken from its owners. For any exchange involving land to take place, it has to be on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. One cannot simply grab the land as land grabs are illegal. One may say there is also a lack of political will to allow land reform. On December 7th, 2021, the South African parliament met in order to vote for the amendment of the Constitution that would allow the state to expropriate land without compensation. It went to a vote and the vote failed to reach the required number to allow an amendment of the Constitution. This is a sign that some politicians do not want land reform to take place or if they do, only on their terms.  

The issue of land is a very sensitive topic in South Africa. The land is an asset; it is a means of production. People can make a living out of the land in several ways. Land reform or the lack thereof has left some feeling aggrieved because their land was taken away from them. For these people, the land is a means to a better life and more. It is the land of their ancestors so a cultural and spiritual connection exists, more so because people lost their lives in the battle against apartheid. For some, a point of contention is the fact that the land only greatly benefits a small portion of the population while the majority struggles just to survive. Some of the white people believe that the land they have worked and toiled on for decades is rightfully theirs, they share a deep connection with it, and they should hold onto it until they want to let go. This creates a difficult environment in which to implement a land reform plan that caters to all in the country. Zimbabwe, a neighbor of South Africa to the north, should serve as an example of what happens if land reform is carried out without a proper plan. If land reform is to be carried out in the right way, there needs to be a plan that is well thought out. It cannot be a rushed process. All stakeholders in the country should be consulted. If they have any viable suggestions, those should be considered as well. 

When it comes to land reform, there is the question of whether the land should be nationalized and owned by the government or if it should be divided amongst the people of South Africa as individuals. Each scenario has its pros and cons that need to be carefully balanced. The importance of the land cannot be overemphasized. If land reform is carried out in the correct manner, it has the possibility of changing South Africa for the better.   



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