Annual Forum Papers

Evaluating land reform's contribution to South Africa's pro-poor growth pattern

  • Year: 2008
  • Organisation: University of Pretoria
  • Author(s): Ward Anseeuw;Ntombifuthi Mathebula
  • Countries and Regions: South Africa

Although the 1994 elections concern redress, social justice and reconciliation, many would consider that these objectives will never be achieved if no economic and social development affects the previously disadvantaged. Development has many dimensions (especially if considered as addressing the injustices of the past) among which the increase of low income and low consumption is only one. Addressing quality of life in general, insecurity, powerlessness and low self-esteem, crowded homes, alienation from the community, etc. is as important. Such a definition of development is strikingly illustrated in the case of South Africa, where famine cannot be observed and where social and welfare grants often guarantee a minimum livelihood at household level.

After more than 10 years of land reform, it becomes thus legitimate to question to what extent the land reform programme has effectively and sustainably improved people's lives in South Africa. The objective of this paper is to have a closer look at land reform projects to understand their effective implementation on the field , from the initial application phase of the settlement to the final configuration of the project - in order to evaluate land reform's contribution to South Africa's development trajectory and pro-poor growth pattern.

This paper shows that, to date, land reform has not significantly changed the socio-economic aspects of the lives of the large majority of the beneficiaries, leading to no significant income distribution and to the questioning of the (pro-poor?) growth pattern South Africa has adopted. Based on a broader empirical survey concerning the evaluation of all land reform programmes, with a focus on the findings regarding the land reform projects of the Mole-mole municipality in the Limpopo Province, the paper details that out of the 42 projects assessed, only 3 show significant development, 20 are entirely abandoned or show no activity, economic or social, at all. In the context of the broad definition of development, only 0.4% of the official beneficiaries are benefiting in any way from the projects; those with a significantly improved quality of life are even fewer. At the same time, land reform has caused an 89.5% decrease in production as well as many job losses on the affected farms.

Several main factors contribute to these pessimistic results. Firstly, the feasibility of the land reform projects is questioned (difficult economic conditions, isolation, etc.). Secondly, non-adapted institutional structures at project level lead to legal incoherencies (causing obstacles to service access - mainly financial), power structures, important intra-community conflicts, mismanagement and misuse of resources. Thirdly, a lack of collective action and institutional contacts appeared, leading to institutional isolation. Finally, the land reform processes are characterized by administrative heaviness, incapacity and lack of transparency leading to extreme delays, collapse of the projects, powerlessness, but also to a lack of adapted and coordinated services in an environment of distortion.

South Africa has only redistributed about 4% of its land to previously disadvantaged citizens. However, due to the historical bias and the sensitive socio-political character of land in South Africa, land reform must and will continue. Solutions to overcome these failures are, therefore, essential. This study recommends firstly that the structure of land reform be reconsidered, to take a dual approach combining private and communal land. It also details the development of more specific and subsequently adapted institutional structures at project level, in order to better meet the needs of the beneficiaries; a need to enhance collective action in order to avoid institutional isolation; and a strong coherent institutional umbrella structure, including control and monitoring systems, to integrate the land reform project in a coordinated, adapted and transparent institutional framework. These recommendations are not all inclusive, but nevertheless highlight some aspects to be addressed in order to obtain the needed successes for South Africa's land reform in a context of development, pro-poor and sustainable growth.