South Africa's white farmers expand into Mozambique


INCREASING NUMBERS of white commercial farmers from South Africa are establishing themselves in countries across the continent because of fears a revised land reform programme being considered by government will curtail opportunities at home.

About 800 South African commercial farmers have signed land deals to expand production into Mozambique over the past few years, according to the country’s largest commercial farming union AgriSA, and many others are considering options elsewhere.

Speaking ahead of a conference next week to discuss possible opportunities in Mozambique’s Gaza province, AgriSA deputy president Theo de Jager said South African farmers have received new land offers to grow crops in over 20 countries.

One of the offers involves a deal between South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC wants to improve food security by allowing South African farmers lease land for up to 105 years to grow crops. If it goes ahead it will be one of the biggest land agreements on the continent.

“We have just closed the final matters for individual farmers between them, [the] DRC and the department of agriculture two weeks ago,” he said on Thursday.

The drive to expand South Africa’s commercial farming sector throughout Africa is being supported by the ANC government, which remains committed to meeting its target of transferring 30 per cent of the country’s agricultural land to black people.

Under apartheid and colonialism, many black South Africans were stripped of their lands. By the early 1990s people disadvantaged by the racist system were in possession of only 10 per cent of the land.

A land reform initiative that used a willing-buyer willing-seller model as its central plank was introduced in the mid-1990s to rectify the imbalance in an orderly manner by 2014.

However, due to numerous programme shortcomings – which range from corruption and bad management by government officials to the high prices being sought by farmers – blacks’ land holding has only increased to 13 per cent.

The initiative’s failure has led some farmers to fear the government might follow Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s route, and forcibly expropriate land without compensation.

Over the past year government has reviewed its programme, and according to newspaper reports aggressive options to speed up the process are being considered by cabinet that would likely disadvantage new white farmers.

The first option looks at the introduction of a more forceful expropriation policy. Secondly, an across-the-board discount of compensation for white-owned land earmarked for transfer is suggested. The third option wants a productive value for land rather than a market value to determine the amount of compensation sellers are paid.

Commenting on the review paper, Mr de Jager said the union felt uncomfortable with government’s intervention in the land market. “What went wrong in land reform was not due to faultiness in the market it was because of lack of capacity in the department [of rural development and land reform] itself,” he said.