JOHANNESBURG - A document released yesterday shows that South Africa’s government is far behind land reform efforts, a setback that could prove explosive in a country with staggering inequality almost a generation after white rule ended.
Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of land reform, said black farmers have resold nearly 30 percent of the white farmland bought for them by the government, often selling back to the previous white owners.
He gave that figure at yesterday’s launch of a long-delayed government policy paper to revitalize a lagging project to redistribute land to the millions of blacks who were dispossessed by European colonizers and later, under the apartheid regime, herded into homelands with poor soil and few economic prospects.
After black majority rule was won in 1994, the government set a goal of redistributing 30 percent of agricultural land to blacks by 2014 - targeting a total of about 60.79 million acres. Instead, Nkwinti indicated the government has bought only about 14.82 million acres to date, of which nearly 4.94 million have been resold.
“The government bought land and handed it over to aspirant farmers who then sold it again, in many instances back to the original owner,’’ he said.
Black farmers have failed for lack of support. In many cases, groups of farmers have been settled on a commercial farm and told to work it collectively with no subdivisions to ensure the farm’s productivity. But most groups disintegrated and a much smaller number remain, trying to operate as individuals.
Whites make up less than 10 percent of South Africa’s population of 50 million. Today, some 40,000 white commercial farmers own about 90 percent of the country’s 224 million acres of agricultural land.
There are about 200,000 small farmers, nearly all black, 2 million to 2.5 million subsistence farmers, and more than half a million farm workers.