Land Reform in Southern Africa

Image: Flickr, Christopher Griner
Image: Flickr, Christopher Griner

South Africa: Land reform was high on the agenda when the African National Congress came into power in 1994, but the country's commitment to an orderly legal process has slowed redistribution.

South Africa’s approach has three levels: restitution, redistribution and land tenure reform. Restitution seeks to restore land ownership or compensate those who were forcibly removed during apartheid. Redistribution aims to provide people with access to land and address the inequalities of the apartheid and colonial past.
Land tenure reform seeks to secure tenure (ownership or occupancy rights), particularly for labour tenants. Special courts are set up to hear land cases and all programmes are run on a willing-seller, willing-buyer approach. However, an ammendment to the land reform laws in 2003 allows the minister to expropriate land on recommendations from regional land commissioners in cases where the seller is asking for exorbitant settlements. The government will pay for land at market value and in instances where the seller is dissatisfied the minister can be challenged in court.
Mozambique: Nearly all colonial settlers left at independence in 1975 and all land was nationalised. Major land reform problems related to lack of a formal land register, insufficient clarity on customary occupancy and inheritance rights and security of tenure for commercial investors. Land laws were revised seven years ago in a fusion of formal and customary law that recognises written contracts as well as traditional tenure systems. Buildings can be privately owned but all land is owned by the state. Permission can be secured for 50-year renewable leases. Previously when buildings were sold, owners had to go through a lengthy reapplication for permission to lease the land. Under the new law, land leases automatically transfer with building sales. It protects the rights of farmers who inherit land without formal land leases, makes it easier for commercial users to obtain legally binding land leases, and guarantees the rights of women to inherit and own property on their own.
Namibia: Nine years ago, Namibia pledged to buy and redistribute 9.5-million hectares of land by 2005 on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis. By 2002, the country had bought only 118 of the 4,000 mostly white-owned commercial farms, or 7.4% of the target. To accelerate the process, government introduced a land tax to increase the cost of holding idle land. In May 2004, the government issued its first 15 notices of compulsory acquisition to farmers who have two weeks to decide on a settlement, which should be market-related.
Zimbabwe: From 1980 to 1997, the government purchased 3,498,444 hectares and settled about 60,000 families on communes, cooperatives and individual plots. Nearly all the cooperatives failed and allegations of corruption led to disputes with donors and eventual withdrawal of donor funding. Zimbabwe launched a fast-track land reform programme in 2000 targeted one-third of commercial farms said to be held by owners of multiple farms or owners of idle lands. In 2002, the policy was expanded to include confiscation of all 4,000 white-owned commercial farms. The law required government to notify farmers that their land was to be acquired in 90 days, during which period they could appeal to administrative courts. No price was to be paid for the land but government was to pay for improvements and equipment. In practice, government ignored court rulings, encouraged invaders to settle regardless of the status of appeals and refused to pay for land improvements or equipment. Police refused to oust invaders on non-designated farms or prosecute cases of theft of farm equipment or livestock. Under the law farm workers were to be eligible for resettlement but were mostly driven off the land by invaders. Up to 350,000 farm workers and their dependents, nearly 2 million in all, have been affected, according to the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe.
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