Use it or lose it?

Early in March 2009 the then Minister of Land Affairs Ms Lulu Xingwana instructed her  directors-general 'to implement, with immediate effect, the principle of use it or lose it,' The Minister instructed that, 'those who do not use the land must immediately must be removed and the land must be given to emerging farmers and co-operatives.' 


The DG has subsequently stated that:

'Food security is seriously compromised when agricultural land is not fully utilized we are not in a position to allow farms to lie fallow and thereby contribute to the food crisis. Land must be fully utilized; farms must always be occupied whether by land reform beneficiaries, farm managers, lessees or whatever the case may be. More important, there must always be production! Those who do not use land will be removed and the land will be given to emerging farmers and co-operatives and the necessary training will be provided'.


The Department moved to evict Mrs Veronica Moos from the farm 21 ha Yzervarkfontein which she had acquired access rights to in terms of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy. In terms of this strategy land acquired is initially held by the Department which then invests to make it ready for farming. After an initial lease period the farms can be transferred to the beneficiary.

However Mrs Moos a former Branch manager of the Land Bank approached Lawyers for Human Rights to contest her removal from the property. The Gauteng North High Court subsequently found in Mrs Moos' favour. The Judge found that Ms. Veronica Moos had been forcibly removed from her occupation of the farm and expressed his concern at the 'high-handed' and 'sinister' mannerin which the previous Minister had handled the situation. He ordered Ms. Veronica Moos's access to the farm be reinstated.

So what can be learnt from this case? There are scores of farms transferred in terms of the redistribution programme which are no longer productive. Some of them date back to the first attempts at Redistribution when the Settlement and Land Acquisition Grant was tied to the houseing subsidy. In order to afford the land price prospective applicants were forced to form large groups which could not be supported on the land transferred. Others originate from the Land Reform for Agricultural Development Programme initiated under former Minister Thoko Didiza.

A range of reviews of the land reform programme have highlighted problems of inadequate pre and post transfer support to beneficiaries. In addition reviews of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) have found that even when support is provided it often comes too late in the agricultural season to be effective. Timing in agricultural production is everything.

Mrs Moos' detailed affidavit to the Johannesburg High Court is worth reading in its entirety as it highlights the challenges faced by people acquiring land and seeking to make it productive. As a former area manager of the Agricultural Development Bank Mrs Moos can be regarded as having more skills than many other applicants seeking land and yet it is clear that government systems failed to support her.

It also highlights how people's tenure rights are inadequately specified and set out in law. Mrs Moos was effectively a leaseholder on State land acquired under PLAS. The terms of that lease should have set out the obligations of both the land user and occupier and the State. It should have provide a clear legal mechanism by which the lease and occupancy of the land could be terminated consistent with existing tenure legislation.

The case indicates the technical, legal and institutional complexity of land reform and what can go wrong when the success of the land reform programme is judged on the transfer hectares rather than on the creation of sustainable livelihood opportunities at different scales.

Posted: 5/29/2009 (8:17:22 AM)

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