DECEMBER 2012 - At the end of apartheid, some 60,000 white landholders – less than 1 percent of the country’s population - controlled about 86 percent of all agricultural land in South Africa. In contrast, black South Africans in rural areas, representing about 30 percent of the national population, had access to less than 15 percent of all farmland.
This land was typically held under informal tenure in racially segregated “homelands.” In addition, an estimated 5.3 million black South Africans lived and worked on white commercial farms, without access to farmland of their own.
In 1994, the newly elected democratic government set a goal of transferring 30 percent of white-owned agricultural land to black owners – first by 1999 and now by 2014 – to address the highly unequal land distribution.
The government’s land redistribution efforts consist of three main phases implemented between 1995 and 2005/6. The initial phase targeted economically disadvantaged black South Africans, while the second phase concentrated on promoting black commercial farmers. With the aim of providing land redistribution beneficiaries access to land for residential and productive purposes, the State funded land transfers and provided start-up grants in the second and third phases of the land distribution program.
During the period of 1994 to 2011, more than 3.4 million hectares of land was transferred to black owners through land distribution. Although the total land transferred fell far short of the government’s 30 percent goal, the land redistribution strategy is credited with successfully targeting the economically disadvantaged during the initial phase. Studies also indicate that it has improved the standard of living of some beneficiaries during the second phase.
Apart from these few positive developments, the redistribution program failed to deliver significant benefits or overcome the barriers to commercial agriculture. Reoccurring challenges, such as skill and resource gaps, suggest a misalignment between the government’s approach to land redistribution and the needs of intended beneficiaries. The lack of consultation with beneficiaries, and inadequate pre-post settlement support has also limited the impact of the land distribution efforts.