Members of the public will be able to apply to lease 700 000 hectares of underutilized or vacant state-owned land in the seven provinces. This was the statement by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, 5th of October, in his weekly newsletter in which he stated “with land ownership still concentrated in the hands of the few, and agriculture primary production and value chains mainly owned by white commercial farmers, the effects of our past remain with us today.”
Some have viewed this move as another expected electioneering tactic given the ANC’s loosening grip on the seat of power. It comes on the heels of a announcement by the minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DLRD), Thoko Didiza, last week Thursday that 896 state farms will be made available to the public.
The farms are situated in the Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, and North West. The department has said that it will be advertising the notices for the lease of this land within the next two weeks. Didiza said that the process does not fall under the Expropriation of land without compensation as that had been referred to parliament for processing.
“South Africa has vast tracts of land suitable for production, with 37,9% of our total land area currently being used for commercial agriculture. Like many other countries, our arable land is under threat from land degradation, water scarcity, and urban encroachment. We are losing prime agricultural land through land use changes” said Ramaphosa. “By depriving our people of the right to land on which they depended for sustenance and livelihoods, this great injustice effectively engineered the poverty of many South Africans.” added Ramaphosa.
According to him, beneficiaries will sign lease agreements with the state and pay rent consistent with the value of the land. Beneficiaries will allegedly also receive training in financial management and enterprise development. The programme will “prioritize” women, youth and persons with disabilities as beneficiaries. In addition to the land acquisition itself, the Department will invest in infrastructure, equipment and machinery to enable these entrepreneurs to run successful businesses.
“They must heal the deep divisions of our past. They must dispel the stereotype that only white farmers are commercially successful in South Africa, and that black farmers are perpetually emerging,” wrote the President.
***Editor’s note: Lest we forget. Outside Tzaneen there lies a large signboard among the tall grass adjacent to the R71 enroute to Letsitele. It was toppled over by a grader. Upon this signboard is writ “Masupatshela Agri-hub”. This signboard was erected two years ago at the entrance of one of the Mopani District’s many empty promises. It used to be a very productive 158-hectare mango farm (Bali) boasting 40 000 mango trees. But then it was purchased by the Mopani District from the Land Bank in 2007. Thirteen years later the farm still lies fallow with roughly 80 families squatting on the premises. The multi-million Rand palisade fencing around the property along with just about every piece of finishing including window frames and doors from the main structures on the property have been stolen off. Essau Remaketse Nzutha (33 at the time) was arrested in 2014 for stealing R224 050 worth of fencing material off Bali. As you read this, I am still awaiting clarity on the plans for this piece of land. But don’t worry because more land and more money will fix everything… even the incomplete, and the memories of the lies that accompanied them.