Preparing for a Landgrab?

We are heading for an election year. There is
suddenly a flurry of pronouncements to the effect
that land ownership and water use need to be
democratised and black people must be given access
to both.
The subtext is that white farmers have an inherited
monopoly on both and this needs to be speedily
The rationale behind threatened changes to the water
and land policy regimes is that the state needs to take
charge of the resources of the country. If it does not
do so, growth will be stymied because new players –
outside of the (white) commercial agriculture sector –
are not getting access to these critical resources.
The answer for the government appears, once again,
to lie in fostering what Deputy Minister of Agriculture,
Forestry and Fisheries Pieter Mulder describes as “a
form of resource nationalism”. Like mineral resources,
which early on in the democratic order were declared
to be owned by the state, the government wishes to
see water similarly nationalised. While the
government is stopping short of nationalising private
land, it is preparing the way for restrictions on water
supplies to farmers and foreign ownership of land.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna
Molewa stated that 62 percent of water supplies were
earmarked for the use of the farming community,
dominated by white commercial farmers. Already 98
percent of water supplies were allocated, which meant
that new townships, industrial estates and mines
could not be guaranteed water. What she didn’t
mention was that this figure applied only to surface
supplies, not underground water tapped by farmers
and others.
Molewa said that although commercial farmers
received the lion’s share of water, commercial
agriculture only contributed 4 percent to the gross
domestic product.
“The implication is that water which is not being
productively and beneficially used is held, and often
traded, by a minority group,” she said in a policy
statement this week. “There is a need to apply a use-
it-or-lose-it principle.”
Mulder, who is also the leader of the Freedom Front
Plus, argued that farmers could find ways of using the
excess water unproductively rather than losing the
right. He added that most farmers had inherited water
on their lands, which made removal of any excess
There were no clear explanations yesterday as to why
state ownership of land has mysteriously dropped
from 22 percent to 14 percent, as indicated in the
latest version of the land audit, first ordered in 2010.
Perhaps it is because 7 percent of land – mainly in
the former Transkei – is not registered, but the
figures don’t add up.
The state is keen on finding out how much farmland
is still owned by white people. But the audit group,
which studied 1.15 million parcels of land, found that
the Department of Home Affairs does not register
people according to race. It hasn’t done so since 1994.
Thus, one cannot work out if Johan Potgieter who
owns a maize farm in the Free State is white or
The desperate attempt by the ANC government to re-
racialise our politics has been stymied in the case of
land. What we do know is that 79 percent of all land
is owned by private individuals, trusts and companies.
But we don’t know whether they are white, coloured,
Indian or black.
Perhaps the government doesn’t actually want to
know the true facts because the real figures may be
surprisingly “transformational”. The absence of facts
allows the ruling party to use the race card in next
year’s election with impunity.


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