SA and Namibia face Zimbabwe's land fate

Four years after Zimbabwe's land reform campaign turned violent, South Africa and Namibia are facing the same conundrum, struggling to redress imbalances from British and German colonial rule.

As in Zimbabwe, the vast majority of land in South Africa and Namibia is owned by white farmers, descendants of settlers who under colonial rule were given choice land.

President Robert Mugabe seized on this historical injustice to justify the forced seizure of 4 000 of Zimbabwe's 4 500 white-owned commercial farms that were redistributed to blacks, wreaking havoc in the agriculture sector in what was once southern Africa's breadbasket economy.

Farmers in neighbouring South Africa and Namibia watched events in Zimbabwe with trepidation, wondering whether the same fate would ultimately befall them despite assurances from the governments that they will uphold the rule of law.

In 1995 South Africa's first post-apartheid government set up a two-pronged approach to land reform that provided for the return of property seized by the former regime and an overall redistribution of land.

White farmers own 80 percent of arable land in South Africa. The government's objective is to ensure that 30 percent of that land is in the hands of black farmers by 2014, 20 years after the end of apartheid.

But thus far only three percent of land has been acquired by the government under the "willing-buyer, willing-seller" scheme and given out to 700 000 blacks, according to official estimates.

Farmers' groups in South Africa say the goal for black land ownership set out by the government in a document released in July may be hard to attain.

"I am concerned that the present version will contribute toward unattainable expectations, especially considering that we have to respect market forces and other limiting realities," said Japie Grobler, the president of the farmers' group Agri South Africa.

But another smaller hardline group of farmers, the Transvaal Agricultural Union, says South Africa is following Zimbabwe's path on land reform and have warned that the property transfer will lead to the collapse of agriculture.

The Landless People's Movement meanwhile has put President Thabo Mbeki on notice to make good on his promises for land reform or else "the people's anger will break out".

In Namibia, land reform is shaping up as a hot-button issue in the runup to the November 15 and 16 elections after the government told some 15 white farmers in May and June to set a price to sell their property to the state.

It was the first time that the government in Namibia led by the South West People's Organisation (Swapo) party has moved to expropriate some of the 3 000 white farmers under its land reform program, but no actual expropriations have happened yet.

As in South Africa, impatience is growing and already a group of farm workers are threatening to seize a farm at Otjiwarango, 250km north of Windhoek.

Article from: www.iol.co.za