South Africa

LAND REFORM OP-ED

The state must build on its progressive policy to benefit women through land redistribution

The state must build on its progressive policy to benefit women through land redistribution
Nono, an elderly maize farmer, inspects maize which has been hung out to dry in Qunu on June 28, 2013. (Photo: AFP/Carl de Souza)

Government’s stated intention to allocate 50% of land to women through the land redistribution programme is a positive step towards ‘fixing’ land reform, but more is needed.

The National Policy for Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation, signed in late February 2022, proposes that at least 50% of all land acquired should be allocated to women. 

This is a positive development because the under-representation of women in land reform programmes as beneficiaries has been an issue. Recent statistics indicate that women comprise only 23% of land reform beneficiaries nationally. This is despite the rhetoric in government policy that women and other vulnerable groups should be priority beneficiaries of this programme.

The White Paper on South African Land Policy (1997) specifies that priory should be given to the marginalised and women in need. Subsequent policies continued with this rhetoric, but in practice, it was not being implemented, and women’s under-representation has continued. 

Research by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) in 2019 on land redistribution showed that the under-representation was rooted in the selection criteria for beneficiaries. This requires prospective applicants to have some resources and experience in farming so that they can sustain production on farms. In addition, there were no mechanisms in place to ensure that women would be prioritised. 

Now that the policy is in place, the department should build on this by ensuring that 50% of post-settlement resources are also allocated to women. And this post-settlement support should be designed around the needs of the beneficiary. 

Post-settlement support

Currently, the government compels the beneficiary to produce a business plan that indicates what they will need to continue with commercial production on the farm. Subject to the available budget, the government then decides which aspects of the business plan it will fund and determine when the resources or funds will be made available.

The funds usually come in instalments. This sometimes disadvantages the beneficiary as the lag time for making the funds or resources available is long and is not tailored around the needs of the beneficiary. With the insistence that land reform beneficiaries engage in large-scale commercial agriculture and it being capital intensive, the beneficiary “fails” to maintain commercial production on the farm and the farm collapses. The farm is then considered a failure. 

By the time the second instalment comes, production has already been affected. Sometimes due to various reasons, including tenure rights on the farm, beneficiaries cannot secure private investment or funding from commercial banks.

Noma Magaxa (a pseudonym) hails from the Eastern Cape. She received a farm through the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy in 2008. She and her husband sold the farm they owned and cashed out their pensions to invest in the new farm. They applied for R4-million in funding to invest in the farm’s tomato and poultry production activities. But tragedy struck Magaxa in 2009, when her husband died. She was left without a partner, and the state wasn’t much support either.


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Magaxa eventually received state support in 2012 — an amount of R1-million. In 2014, she received R2-million. She received the last R1-million five years later. 

“After five years, I received my last tranche of recapitalisation funding. There was an implementation plan, but things have changed. Things are now more expensive — it’s been four years,” Magaxa said.

“The funding did not help us a lot. The same problems of water, electricity are still there. Immediately after I received the funding, cables were stolen. There is still no water, but I managed to buy JoJo tanks with the last tranche [of money].”

She added that the funds needed to be released in one go so farmers could plan and implement their plans efficiently.

“In 2014, I finally saw some progress and my produce was in demand at the market. But then my water problems began. I had no water. The next tranche was only made available in 2019, after how many years? By this time the damage was massive. We are doing one thing all over again! We are fixing tunnels! We buy cables; they are stolen! The police find nothing and are not helpful.”

Electricity is expensive and unaffordable and, as a result, the connection was disconnected. Now Magaxa can’t pump the water she needs to irrigate and power the lights to raise chickens. She had to lay off workers and has experienced theft because the yard is dark at night. 

Magaxa said she feels betrayed by the state and fears that the farm may be taken away if she continues to fail to produce on the farm. She is worried about what will happen to her children once she is dead, after having invested in the farm, as the lease she was given does not say much about succession. 

Tenure security and financing

Tenure security is another aspect that needs to be considered as it tends to disadvantage the farmers. Magaxa couldn’t approach banks to borrow money when she needed funds to invest in the farm because she had a short-term lease. 

“We could not go to banks and borrow because of the short-term leases that we got, for three years. The bank refused to give us anything. We then got a five-year lease. It’s only in 2019 that they gave us a 30-year lease, at least the bank can think about giving us something.”

The issue of tenure security and accessing funding can also not be solved by approaches that are not comprehensive in nature and consider all aspects of commercial farming. Giving farmers title deeds, as the common narrative suggests, can leave farmers such as Magaxa worse off.

The failure to service that loan could lead to the farm being repossessed. A comprehensive approach is needed. For instance, what are the proposed interventions towards unaffordable electricity costs? What are the proposed water access interventions, which is a significant challenge for many land reform beneficiaries? All these and other challenges would sink farmers and they would lose their farms to money lenders.

As long as land reform beneficiaries are compelled into large-scale commercial agriculture production, all these and other issues have to be considered. Simply, allocating land while enforcing the “use it or lose it” principle as suggested in the current National Beneficiary Selection and Land Allocation Policy will disadvantage women and other non-elite beneficiaries who often do not have their own resources to sustain commercial production on farms. 

Gender-sensitive methods of planning, as suggested by the Presidential Advisory Panel, and mechanisms of transparency and government accountability, would come in handy in ameliorating the plight of women and ensuring that they also benefit from the land reform programme. This move is a positive step towards achieving equitable access to land. DM

Nkanyiso Gumede is a researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas), an independent policy research institute within the Faculty for Economic and Management Sciences at the University of the Western Cape.

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