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A critical appraisal of South Africa's market-based land reform policy:
The case of the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development programme in Limpopo

Marc Wegerif

Nkuzi Development Association

Research report no. 19

December 2004

SARPN acknowledges permission from the author to post this report on the SARPN website.
It was originally commissioned by the Programme for Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.
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In 1996 less than 1% of the population owned and controlled over 80%1 of farm land.2 This 1% was part of the 10.9% of the population classified as white (Stats SA 2000). Meanwhile, the 76.7% of the population that is classified as African had access to less than 15% of agricultural land, and even that access was without clear ownership or legally-recognised rights. An estimated 5.3 million black South Africans lived with almost no tenure security on commercial farms owned by white farmers (Wildschut & Hulbert 1998).

The legacy of apartheid was not just the inequality in access to resources such as land, but a faltering economy that by 1994 had been through two years of negative growth and left the majority of the population in poverty (Sparks 2003). Policy makers pre- and post-1994 took an interest in arguments that land reform could play a significant role in boosting economic growth and alleviating poverty. World Bank and other advisors in South Africa in the early nineties argued for a far-reaching land reform programme on these grounds (Greenberg 2003). Arguments that increased productivity and job creation could result from reducing farm sizes were supported by a number of local and international scholars (Van Zyl et al. 1996).

The need for land reforms to address the legacy of the past was clearly identified in the new South African Constitution (Act 108 of 1996, Section 25). The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) identified land reform as a key component of its programmes of ‘meeting basic needs’ and ‘building the economy’ (ANC 1994). The White Paper on South African Land Policy included in its strategic goals the promotion of economic growth and poverty reduction through land reform (DLA 1997).

Over the last decade land reform policies around the world have, with a few exceptions such as the case of Zimbabwe, revolved around variations of marketbased land reform. This trend fits with broader shifts in global economic policies, following the end of the Cold War, that have seen a reduced role for the state, liberalisation of markets and privatisation of state enterprises and assets (Williams 1996; Greenberg 2003). It is within this context that the first democratically elected government in South Africa followed international trends and World Bank advice by adopting a market-based approach to land reform (Williams 1996). A range of civil society organisations, including social movements, NGOs and trade unions, have raised strong criticisms of market-based land reforms around the world. They have argued that this model will not benefit small producers and the rural poor, but serve to tighten the control of powerful land owners and concentrate land in the hands of those with financial and political power (El-Gonemy 1999:125; Ghimire 1999:23; Greenberg 2003:22).

The South African land reform programme, developed by the African National Congress government that won the first democratic elections in 1994, comprises three main programmes: restitution, tenure reform and redistribution. This study focuses on redistribution. Redistribution is of particular interest as it is the only programme ‘specifically aimed at transforming the racial pattern of land ownership’ (Jacobs et al. 2003:4). The White Paper on South African Land Policy stipulated that land redistribution would be implemented through a ‘willing buyer-willing seller’ approach in terms of which land would be acquired through purchases at market rates from owners who agreed to sell. The first version of the redistribution programme, implemented from 1995, involved the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) providing a Settlement/ Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) to assist the poor with land purchases (DLA 1997). This was largely replaced in 2000 by the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme that removed poverty as a criterion for beneficiary selection and focused more on creating black commercial farmers. This shift was in line with changes in South African economic policy that took on a more market- and investor-friendly direction with the adoption of the Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) policy in 1996 (Department of Finance 1997).

Critics of the LRAD programme claim it will not meet its targets for redistribution of land, nor shift the basic structure of agriculture, it will merely change the racial composition of land owners, and will, at best, benefit only a small minority of the already privileged (Tilley 2002; NLC 2003). This is in line with international critiques of market-based land reform. Authors such as Borras (2003:389–90) and Ghimire (1999:23–4) have argued that market-based land reform models will never bring the far-reaching changes in property rights and power relations that are required, and will only benefit those already better off who are best able to access the market and the opportunities presented by such programmes. Despite the critiques of LRAD there has been almost no documentation on the effectiveness of LRAD in achieving its objectives or its contribution to the broader objectives of land reform. The focus of this report is market-based land reform. The topic is addressed primarily through a critical examination of the implementation of LRAD in Limpopo province. Chapter 2 discusses some of the main land reform debates and experiences in order to locate LRAD within the context of market-based land reforms internationally and in South Africa. Chapter 3 presents the methodology used for this study, while Chapter 4 provides a brief background to the study area. Chapter 5 explains the LRAD policy, the structures and procedures used for its implementation in Limpopo, and some of the achievements of the programme. Chapter 6 presents the information gathered on individual LRAD projects, primarily information gathered directly from the beneficiaries through interviews and site visits. Finally, Chapter 7 presents an analysis of the findings, raising some concerns about the programme while also acknowledging what it has achieved.

This compilation and analysis of empirical information on the implementation and impact of LRAD is intended to contribute to ongoing debates about LRAD and the relevance of market-based land reforms in South Africa.

  1. Total hectares of farmland owned as commercial farming units (82 209 571ha) as a percentage of total farmland (100 665 792ha). Figures sourced from Development Bank of Southern Africa and N Vink, Chair: Department of Agricultural Economics at Stellenbosch University.

  2. Calculated from population, farm unit and agricultural land figures.

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