Land Shortage is not the problem

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Gauteng Caucus Leader

Gauteng is the smallest and most urbanised province in South Africa.

But if you drive outside the big cities there are plenty of wide open spaces.

I have often wondered who owns the untended land that you see from the roadside.

According to a parliamentary reply by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, 55% of land in Gauteng is owned by the state or its agencies.

This is an astonishing figure. It amounts to 910 000 hectares, which is slightly larger than Cyprus and nearly the size of Lebanon.

The problem is that national, provincial and local government have little idea of what they own and how to make best use of it.

The Gauteng provincial government says that it will only complete a full land audit in the 2014/2015 financial year.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Natives’ Land Act which drastically restricted black land ownership.

It was an historic injustice, so land reform should be a high priority to give land ownership to those denied it in the past.

But the Gauteng provincial government has messed up its farmer settlement scheme.

In 1998, 254 farmers were offered three year leases on state-owned land, with the option to buy at the end of the lease.

Although title deeds were promised in 2002, these have still not been issued despite anguished appeals by the farmers.

I have visited the ruined farm of Mr Thabo Mokone in Randfontein.

His deal to export flower bulbs with international company Hudaco fell through because he couldn’t get working capital without land ownership.

Americans expressed interest in his chili paste, but again he couldn’t deliver.

He had to move out in November last year because he was threatened by thieves. His greenhouses and fences have been stolen, and his double story house is vandalised.

He told me that with access to loans he could have employed about 20 workers in a flourishing enterprise.

There are 20 other farms in this one area that have failed because the provincial government hasn’t given title deeds.

It’s a sorry tale of ineptitude that has ruined many emergent farmers who could have boosted the economy in depressed parts of Gauteng.

Land reform countrywide has generally failed because of lack of support following the transfer of land.

Share equity schemes are the most successful model, with workers buying shares in commercial farms with government money.

There are nearly 100 of these schemes in the Western Cape, but only 6 in Gauteng.

Agriculture creates the most employment for the smallest investment.

R1 million invested in agriculture creates 11 jobs, but only 3 jobs in retail, which is the second best sector.

The National Development Plan estimates that agriculture can create close to a million additional jobs.

Direct land ownership can work with enterprising farmers like Thabo Mokone, provided that logjams in awarding title deeds are eliminated.

The real problem is not land shortage, but a sore lack of administrative expertise and political will.

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