Apartheid Land Fix Stalls in South Africa

A South African plan to return alienated agricultural land to black farmers appears to be stalling, leading some South African leaders to worry about social, economic, and racial unrest in the country’s fragile democracy.

In 1994, following the end of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the new democratic government discussed plans to return land confiscated by the minority white population, and made returning land to the dispossessed a top priority. The challenges the government faced were steep. In 1913, the South African government set aside 87 percent of all South African land for the white minority, leaving only 13 percent of the nation’s land available for the majority black native population.

In an effort to undo almost a century of racial discrimination, the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa, enshrined land reform in the Constitution. In addition, they embarked on an ambitious plan of land redistribution. The government bought farmland from white farmers and turned it over to black farmers who had claims on the territory.

This plan has run into a series of problems. Most significantly, many black farmers report that they are unable to acquire the necessary capital to purchase the land outright, meaning that many farmers are living and working on land technically owned by the government. Farmers who do not own their land cannot use it for collateral in farm loans, a vital tool for farmers across the globe.

In addition, many small farmers are finding it difficult to compete with the large-scale agribusinesses that have sprung up in South Africa over the past several decades. The concentration of land in the hands of a small minority has led to the concentration of agricultural power. While the industrial-size farms that now dominate agricultural production in South Africa have transformed the country into an agricultural powerhouse, they are muscling out smaller producers and farmers.

Some scholars and political experts believe that a lack of success in land reform policy could undermine South Africa’s democratic state. If the black majority, who still feel victimized by apartheid, lose faith in the government, it could lead to racial strife and political unrest.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer