Special Focus: No funds – no land reform!

“The Land Shall be shared among those who work it!” ( Freedom Charter –1955) “The land reform programme must aim to redistribute 30% of agricultural land in first 5 years.” (Reconstruction and Development Programme – 1994). David Mayson assesses progress.

These are the aims set by the ANC in years gone by. But landless people marching on Parliament on Tuesday June 24, 2003 , said that these targets are meaningless without sufficient funds being allocated to land reform. On that day, Parliament voted on the Appropriation Bill, the Bill that makes Minister Manuel’s budget proposals a law. The marchers wanted to meet with Ministers Manuel and Didiza to discuss how additional money can be allocated for land reform. The Ministers refused to meet or accept the Memorandum. The landless community groups from the West Coast, Overberg, Southern Cape and the Cape Town Metro told of how their land reform dreams and plans are being ruined, at the point of buying the land. The reason – government has no money for land reform. There are many reasons for the failure of land reform – but because the programme is based on a willing buyer / willing seller system, funds to buy land are very important. The experience of the Western Cape landless can be multiplied many times throughout the country and the table below shows the level of the crisis. So far, only 2,3% of the 30% target has been transferred and, if we continue at this rate, it will take a further 96 years for the target to be met. At that point, less than 50 000 white farmers will still own almost half of South Africa ‘s land surface. The budget for land reform provides money for restitution – communities who were dispossessed from a specific piece of land. It also provides money for ” redistribution “ – for those people that are landless and want land but did not lose a specific piece of land. Finally, it grants funds for tenure reform – for those people who are on land now but who need to strengthen their rights on land.


This year, Parliament gave an extra R500 million to settle the restitution claims. This increase is because President Mbeki demanded that all the claims must be settled by 2005. These additional funds are very welcome and restitution communities are looking forward to their claims being settled.

Land redistribution

But at the same time, Parliament has reduced the money available for buying land for redistribution and tenure reform – from R280 million to R270 million. And this is of huge concern for landless people. In the Western Cape , the Department of Land Affairs (DLA) has projects which would require a total of R157 million to settle. But they have been allocated an amount of only R33 million for the year. With no money, the Department will continually have to disappoint people.


For many of the landless people that marched to Parliament, the lack of budget has serious impacts on their lives. For those groups that have been negotiating with white farmers to buy land and who have gone through all the various processes that the DLA requires – being told that there is no money means that they have wasted time, money and effort and have to start again because the landowner has sold the land to another white farmer or a foreigner. For farm dwellers that are facing eviction from farms – being told that there is no money to provide alternative land or homes, when this has been agreed to by all the parties, means they sit on the streets. For all landless people and emerging farmers, being told that it is not worth the time to develop new proposals for a land reform project, because there is no money, is extremely demoralising.

Land distribution in South Africa – Dec 2002

Total area of South Africa

122 320 100 ha

Commercial agricultural

86 186 026 ha

70,4% of total

30% of commercial agricultural land

25 855 808 ha

21,1% of total

Total land transferred through land reform and restitution

1 993 747 ha

2,3% of commercial agricultural land

Required rate to meet target (Target of 30% by 2015)

1 988 505 ha per year

Average rate to date (over last 8 years of land redistribution)

249 218 ha per year

Number of years to meet target at current rate

96 years

Marchers’ demands

The allocation of funds to land reform shows that land reform is not prioritised in the minds of the Treasury, Cabinet and Parliament. The marchers demanded that land reform be prioritised and that this is translated into increased budget allocations, increased monitoring of the programme, and a commitment to meeting the targets set for the redistribution of land. All DLA Provincial Land Reform Offices need additional funds in this financial year. The marchers demanded that the DLA, Treasury and Parliament address these shortfalls in the passing of the Adjustment Appropriations Bill in October (2003). According to the table above, if we are to meet the target of 30% in the next 12 years, we will have to redistribute 1,9 million hectares per year. The amount of money allocated to the DLA over the next three years will come nowhere near the amount needed to buy land with the current programme. According to the DLA’s own estimations, an amount of R1,9 billion would be needed annually if 1,99 million hectares were to be redistributed. A more realistic figure, based on the actual performance and cost of land reform in each province is needed. In the Western Cape , the Department worked out that it would need R1,5 billion per year to achieve the target. These amounts must be allocated to the different provincial offices. In addition, an increased staff compliment and staff capacity to undertake the increased work will be required to deliver land at this scale. Although the allocations to restitution have increased substantially in the current financial year, the funds granted to the Commission during the next three years will not be enough to meet the target of 2005. The marchers recommended that the restitution budget be increased still further to include sufficient funds to implement the settlement agreements. This should include a total of at least R3,89 billion for restitution grants over the three years – R1,5 billion more than is currently granted.

Process to develop an improved programme

To achieve the modest aims of the transfer of 30% will not just require additional funds. A fundamental shift from the current project-by-project, demand-led and willing buyer / willing seller approach is needed. It is too expensive, too slow, too inefficient in terms of the best use of available resources and personnel within the Department, and too dependent on white farmers being willing to make their land available. Such processes of investigation and programme and policy reformulation are needed throughout the country. All these processes of investigation should culminate in a national Land Summit involving all role-players. The determination of budgets for government expenditure is not subject to public discussion in any significant way – even the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) is not given the opportunity to discuss the budget. It was recommended that Parliament is given the power to amend the budget and that there is greater ability for the public to comment on both the Medium Term Budgetary Policy Statement and on the proposed budget itself. These documents need to be published prior to tabling so that public and parliamentary commentary can be made in terms of both revenue and expenditure.

David Mayson is Research and Policy Manager of the Surplus People Project