We speak to South African farmers about land expropriation and hear their personal views on this divisive issue.
The question of land is a contentious political issue in South Africa, and one of the most divisive in the country.
Historically, black land ownership was undermined through decades of colonial dispossession and discriminatory apartheid legislation – measures which for many years prevented the majority of the population from owning property based solely on their race.
With the end of white minority rule in 1994, the democratic government made a promise of land restitution and a programme was put in place. It followed a “willing seller, willing buyer” model through which the government bought white-owned farms for redistribution.
However, despite this, progress has been slow and most of the country’s farmland is still owned by white farmers.
This is the time when white commercial farmers must come on board. They shouldn't be like a species that is endangered. They must be part of the whole land reform ... This is our country, we are living here; all of us must pull together and then find the solution to the whole thing.
It is estimated that white South Africans – who make up approximately nine percent of the country’s population – own more than 70 percent of the commercial agricultural land.
Property rights are protected by South Africa’s constitution, but to propel the stalled land reform process, the government is now considering a constitutional change that would allow it to expropriate land from white farmers without paying for it.
The move is controversial and has found criticism in some quarters. Others argue that a radical approach is needed to redress past racial injustices that still manifest in the high levels of poverty among black communities.
There are also supporters on all sides, who agree that land reform is essential for the future of the country. But many argue that the government needs to do more in order for it to succeed.
“I support land expropriation, but on specific issues or on specific land,” Shimi Jonas Makoka, a black farmer, tells Al Jazeera. He emphasises that the issue is “not a blanket cover that every [white] farmer’s farm is subject to expropriation”.
“That fear must be diminished and clarity must be given to all farmers – commercial and upcoming farmers – that the government is not aiming at taking farms and grabbing the farms,” he says.
Makoka is concerned that uncertainty around the government’s land expropriation plan is causing a “stir” among white commercial farmers, which could threaten food security in the country – especially if upcoming black farmers are not supported to effectively utilise the land.
“We need thorough, continuous support until a farmer is established,” he says. “You cannot take a farmer halfway, or just introduce him into this wilderness and then leave him out. We need support.”
Leon Borcherds, a white farmer whose family has been in the industry since 1948, says land reform is “definitely” needed.
“The white farming community is ageing rapidly … so we need new entrants into this market. We need entrance obviously of black farmers, we have never disputed that, and I think it’s very important,” he says.
But he adds that a major problem is the government’s approach.
“I think the government has not made it such a priority in their plans, and there has also been a lot of corruption. A lot of the money has disappeared that was supposed to get to the farmer on the ground.”
“Farms are being expropriated, but the title deed does not get to the black man at the end of the day,” Borcherds feels, saying this prevents upcoming black farmers from getting the necessary financing to help their farms succeed.
“People don’t know how to farm; train them, help us,” he says to South Africa’s government. “The white commercial farmer is more than happy to help the government in this, but [government must] create the platforms. There are a lot of plans, but politics is involved every time and we never get anywhere.”
Borcherds says what is needed is a model whereby white commercial farmers can transfer knowledge to new upcoming black farmers and the two can work collaboratively.
“We are prepared as Africans to take over the land and work on it. Nevertheless, we are expecting some assistance, like the skills that they [white farmers] have got; the experience in farming,” he says.
“This is the time when white commercial farmers must come on board. They shouldn’t be like a species that is endangered. They must be part of the whole land reform, and the mindset needs to change. This is our country, we are living here; all of us must pull together and then find the solution to the whole thing.”