Land grab catastrophe

Land grab catastrophe

2014-04-10 07:19

RECENT news reports giving particulars of government land reform proposals have sent ructions through the country. Not without reason; the proposals – they are not yet definite plans – could devastate South Africa’s capacity to produce food.

The government is proposing to give half of any given farm to the workers, who will run it as a cooperative. The government will pay for the land, but the owner will not receive a cent. Instead, the workers will get the money to improve the land and buy implements.

Off the top of my head I can think of three historical examples of similar social engineering – Joseph Stalin’s and Mao Zedong’s forcible collectivisation of farms in the Soviet Union and China in the 1930s and 1950s, and Robert Mugabe’s land grab at the beginning of the century.

I immediately hasten to add that these examples were much more severe than the present South African proposals, but the principle is the same.

It is a matter of historical record that all three examples turned out as catastrophes. In the USSR and China, millions of people died of hunger as food production plummeted. Zimbabwe, which used to be the bread basket of southern Africa, imploded into just another basket case, where those on the land had to eke out a miserable existence.

The best land went not to peasants, but to Mugabe’s super-rich political cronies.

According to reports, Zimbabwe is slowly climbing out of a deep hole, but Mugabe’s cruelty, hunger for power and corruption make the recovery a very difficult process.

Nobody is suggesting that our government’s proposals are as severe as the above. There may even be some sincerity in them. But the law of unintended consequences will probably punish the whole country.

In a recent article, renowned economist Clem Sunter put a few facts on record. Inter alia, he showed that only 17 million out of 122 million hectares of farmland are arable, suitable for producing crops without irrigation. The rest is suitable mostly only for grazing.

But, as this land is mostly in dry areas, the farm units have to be a certain size in order to be viable. In other words, cutting up the land into smaller pockets is going to adversely affect the farmers’ and peasants’ capacity for survival, let alone food production for the market.

New farmer failures

Another fact is that by far the majority of the “new” farmers who have so far received land as a result of the government’s land reforms did not last long. There are a few notable exceptions, but the majority have run down the land, sold it after a few years and returned to the city.

Of course this does not prove that blacks cannot farm, as right-wingers may claim. It does prove that you cannot throw people on the land and tell them to farm without proper training. If you gave me, a city boy, a farm, I promise you that I wouldn’t last a week.

The fact is that most of the black farmers were treated very badly. The government looked at the number of hectares turned over to blacks, and thought that was a sufficient criterion. Wrong, very wrong.

Farming nowadays is a sophisticated business. A farmer not only has to know how to sow mealies, milk a cow or fix a tractor. He needs to be a businessman, and a good one.

The conclusion is clear. To go down the path the government is suggesting is to invite disaster. Present farmers will be unable to survive on the land they retain and may well leave it. Our food production will go down drastically. Food prices will explode, and the poor people in the city townships will bear the brunt.

Are people in government really all that stupid? I have a little cynical devil on my left shoulder telling me otherwise. I think the proposers of this plan know it is unworkable. So why do it in the first place?

The answer is simple. We are moving towards a general election, and the ANC is receiving severe competition from a certain young gentleman by the name of Julius Malema. Malema’s main election point is that the whites stole the land, and that it has to be taken from them and given back to the blacks - regardless of the consequences.

In order to prevent ANC voters from switching to Malema’s Economic Freedom Front, the ANC thinks it has to look like it is caring about the land issue.

One may, however, legitimately ask: what political party does not make unworkable proposals in election time? And, even more importantly, what government ever keeps all its election promises?

I could be wrong. We may be ending up with a Mugabe-like land grab after all. If so all of us, and especially the poorest in the cities and towns, will pay the price.

Let us hope the government is as devious as I think they are.

  - Fin24

* Leopold Scholtz is an independent political analyst who lives in Europe. Views expressed are his own.

  • Bokaba Collen - 2014-04-10 07:42

    Malema you are our last Hope,Viva EFF Viva!

      Vérité Un - 2014-04-10 08:51

      It went in the one ear and straight out the other.

      Fanie Kuhn - 2014-04-10 11:30

      Peter and Bokaba, exactly which Sub-saharan country to our North do you aspire to?? How much effort has your govt put into education, the only real way to economic freedom (hint: it scores at #146 out of 148 countries) How well have prev. disadvantaged done with the land they were given (hint: by the Ministers own admission, 90% of it has turned from productive to fallow) All your talk is to take what you see without putting in the effort.

      Rachel Moolman - 2014-04-10 14:20

      Are you stupid, Colin? Can you read? Go back to the article and read the consequences!

      Ike Jakson - 2014-04-10 14:52

      Yes, friend Bokaba I agree with you. I don’t know how your forefathers ever allowed the scruffy Dutch settlers, later joined by the English, to steal this wonderful land with its beautiful harbours, railway networks, hospitals , schools, the finest universities in the entire World providing free education to all, the entire country covered by Telkom on cellular Networks, everyone on the internet; wow, it beats me they allowed it to be stolen and watched it being destroyed until there was nothing left. Malema is our only hope. He will fix it in no time at all and we will all be back in paradise like it used to be.

      Johnathan Mann - 2014-04-10 18:29

      Peter Nkhethoa Google population density map of south africa Google language map of south africa Google rainfall map of south africa Go on the South African weather service website. Wake up! See how much land you owned in 1650...

  • Henk Theron - 2014-04-10 10:14

    Eish Leopold! Ek lees graag jou goed maar jy is soms maar net ruggraatloos en te polities korrek. Noem 'n graaf 'n voshel man en kry klaar. Dit is omdat ons so 'pussyfoot' (mooi Engelse woord) omtrent baie goed dat ons met Nkandlas en e-tol sit. En MalaMala. En wapenaankope (sic) wat ons nie nodig gehad het nie. ens ens ad infintum ad nauseam. Kry 'n greep op die lewe man. Jy het jou talente vermors op hierdie artikel van jou en is so 'jammergat' benadering tot 'n ernstige probleem.

      Fanie Kuhn - 2014-04-10 11:36

      Henk, I agree with you. Don't forget, however, the billions corrupted away via secret arms purchases by the Nats that are well-documented, but for unknown reasons the ANC is keeping under wraps. I would like to think the prev. advantaged were pure as the driven snow, but it just aint so.

      Dewald Scholtz - 2014-04-11 08:52

      Leopold Scholtz was een van die groot voorstaanders van 'verandering' in Suid-Afrika en hy het enigiemand wat van hom verskil het afgemaak as ver-regses - nou sing hy 'n ander deuntjie...

  • Owen Walker - 2014-04-10 11:16

    There are 2 sets of stupid people is SA: The first set are those who think that property rights will be honored. The second set are those who think property ownership brings economic freedom. Both sets will realize that logic, reasoning and due process will not prevail as there simply is no managerial skill guiding the land redistribution process. There will come a time when land grabs start in earnest and the anc will simply let it happen, otherwise they will have to shoot their own people. So instead of upholding the law they will join in on the looting. We in SA can only go forward when the land issue has been resolved. We can howl as much as we want, this is an emotive issue, beyond reason, and it must be resolved. The bulk of Africa is forecasting +6% growth as they have long since resolved the colonial land issue. The longer we wait the more the degeneration of the whole economy. Do a simple thing now. Nationalize the land and rent it out on 25 year leases to commercial farmers. This will be the least disruptive solution. So long as whites / settlers own land there will be no progress. For the greater good remove this emotive problem.

      Ike Jakson - 2014-04-10 19:57

      Owen, the little boxes that we mark indicate that most people don’t see the validity of your point. I added mine to give you 2 on the left side because I believe that you have a very important point. It is not a pleasant message; indeed it is a difficult one. May I add to your thinking that we actually have what the Americans would call “Two South Africa’s] at loggerheads with each other. I do not think that your suggestion to nationalise the land and rent it out is unworkable; the idea may not be palatable to the South African mind but it may be a pragmatic solution. Sad though it may sound, on the present course we are heading for disaster but please note, not for those who have; in fact the biggest disaster will be the fate of those who have not.

  • Joel Gilbert - 2014-04-10 11:17

    In politics like in life you learn from your mistakes, so XX will give the farms and most will fail, new presisent will be elected and either thrash the plan as a failure or continue for more support....and so on and so on. XX will never listen the same when you tell your child not to do something, he does it.....such is goverment of the day, only listening to his closest allies. We can only give advice but the majority will vote, mostly drawn for a free T shirt and 2 beers, but with a happy heart will make the cross........How & what can be done?

  • Jean du Toit - 2014-04-10 11:40

    This is another lie the ANC are employing to get the colored vote in the Western Cape, with not a care in the world about the consequences the news will have on the economy and consequently jobs for our people. Soon after elections, we will see the idea scrapped, but more lost jobs are not of any concern to the ANC, as long as they get the vote, that all they care about. Selfish leaders.

  • Jenny Anderson - 2014-04-10 12:08

    Mildred Olifant needs to be removed from her position.She is totally irresponsible and stupid.

  • Debbie Brain - 2014-04-10 14:17

    The ANC are not going to satisfy anyone by giving farmland away. The idea is good but with a lot of help from experienced farmers.One may imagine the idea of a co-op but then they will still have to sell their goods to make a living, miles away from schools and transport costs will steal away all the profit. To be a farmer today is more complex than running a business, it's about maximum yield, avoiding plant disease and knowing the seasons very well. There is enough land where people are already located, one doesn't need huge portions to supply communities piece by piece. Taking away farmers land will be a drastic mess...Zuma will stay on his pozzie and all the others will have only land and produce for themselves.Malema will go hungry with all the whites, living on a half a cup of oil a week and a half a soap bar a month and where does the mielie meal come from ? Successful farming without commercial prosperity can grow better food but that also needs a great deal of know how, their is a huge difference between subsistence farming and really good agro, it's why a lot of people have lost their farms, not to mention floods, droughts. The idea is an insult.

  • George Basset - 2014-04-10 14:35

    Mugabe never stole anyones land,white people were too arrogant to share what they had stolen,,they were given 20 years to level the imbalances that they created by the ruthless colonialism,,,but they remained with the majority of farms that they developed using forced labour and slavery thus leaves no room for compensation,,most viable businesses today are the ones that benefited from apartheid and no one ever gave back some of the loot and these are the same people complaining too much because they are too arrogant to embrace being forgiven and be honourable to level the imbalances that you caused,Africa will accomodate those who understand the significance of the colonial era and its effects today ,with that in mind,please Mr writer do not inflict pain on old wounds.Africa is for you and me.Be realistic and stop being sympathetic to your white community,these are articles that bring racial grounds again,land was the reason for the struggle and up and until that is addressed,you will fool yourself forever that its a story gone.

  • Zaber Aber - 2014-04-10 16:25


  • Debbie Brain - 2014-04-10 19:14

    Mugabe didn't steal anyones' land...the whites were arrogant there all true but not all 'imperial' colonies began like that,people like Grogan in Keyna where squeezed out by fops living in the Lords of England who had no interest in living in Africa on a human scale.I GREW UP in Zambia and my grandparents and parents gave up all their land, work and belongings to come to South Africa where I did not want to discriminate.We had family rows about so much so ..there where even more other draconian ways of discrimination in law and society and I think white people have been a tough customer more than a lot of people know about.There are also good things about whites despite their old fashioned prejudices of ignorance but that cannot just be out lived or scored off the chats. If you don't want to get on with anybody who resembles that will also tremble when you get the same treatment from those whose lack of progress will turn against you because of failing to take direction for living ahead and choosing unwisely yourself.ALL ROUND African people are as close to my blood as can be, my sense in understanding the dignity of color..their incredible strength, tenacity and custom, why people become Africa toxic is not something black people alone could have to see how history and life are not on your side anyway..Blacks in South Africa are spoiled by whites and very full of wingess.Understandable though, is it better to ignore the wealth and prosperity always ?

  • Steven Swart - 2014-04-10 19:32

    We don't need no education .....we don't need no self white anything ..... we demand for things to materialize out of thin air.... we want to do nothing......we want someone else's intellectual produce.......we demand.......we demand....and so forth

      Ike Jakson - 2014-04-10 21:28

      Ayup Steven.

  • Willem de Haan - 2014-04-10 20:23

    The government is not devious - it is plain stupid.

  • Debbie Brain - 2014-04-10 20:28

    Anyway, Malema's youth really do have a problem...the complete absence of work.. requiring good qualifications and high skills. Being histrionically out of work is a dire complication.First, I would find a way to employ people who want to have an educated job and find a way of bringing business enterprise availability to all common citizens, certainly not expect the poorer off to work on farms.In fact if black people who have strong ideas, the world is your oyster for making profit within Africa, without Chinese immigrants, dependency on a European style fashion works idea of progress, manufacturing for global enterprise was not beyond your time since the Presidency of Mandela. A wake up time is needed because the people of industry and manufacture used their imagination long before the 'conquest' of science and requirements of education.Because whites do not see your needs in economic environment, it is up to you to question ideas, not authority or power, ideas have power on their own. Wake up to your differences and make money out of them...that is life that you are !

  • Debbie Brain551 - 2014-08-13 21:46

    Experimental farms would be much better. The arable land use is the farmers way of doing things. Building a geodesic farm cheaply can be done, it's a new business in itself because so many communities could use an easy to assemble version if someone could get down to the brass tacks of making them easy to assemble out of recycled plastic. Minimal water is required plus the use of perma-culture means creating a small topsoil that can be used on top of paper or wood. It means using wood that is dumped, paper that is wasted, ash that is usually just left from fires and making a perma culture soil which you do not need a lot of.The process of growth is forced by the enclosure of the dome and watered by leaving a drum of water to evaporate inside.The small amount of watering needed can be done at night.The need for arable land has long since been proved a myth as all soil needs replenishment. It is only the type of soil that for big farmer is more retentive so he can use fertilizers and sprays. Smaller farms can be much more productive and more interesting by way of creating their own seed generations and some farmers have found that they can strengthen seed generations by planting multiple varieties next to veld grass because the wild actually can accentuate and force the spreading of varieties of the same plant.There is so much more than agro farmer in addition to side long potential for other small business...Africa needs to "show her stick"..this way we cannot fail.

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