The British weekly publication “The Economist “published recently an editorial on the theme of the South African land reform debate entitled “Don’t do as Mugabe did”, The patronizing tone of the headline is rather deceiving because it gives the impression of disputing the merit of land reforms.
However, if you read further you find that it is an eye-opener on this most important issue, prevailing over popular misconceptions, that land redistribution is the universal remedy and magic potion to solve South Africa plunging economy and unemployment.
Redistribution for people that were deprived of land in the worst years of apartheid has a solid moral ground.
Statistics indicate that the state owns or controls 25 % of the South African land, but the process of redistribution or acquisition of private land has been slow, having achieved only 30% of its goals, after more than twenty years
Many of the farms, that have been handed over have since failed because the new owners did not have the skills needed to run commercial farming.
In other instances the populations, that had been forcibly removed from their ancestral rural grounds during apartheid, did not want them back, preferring financial compensations.
According to the same Economist editorial “As much as 70 % of 8 million hectares of land transferred by the state since the end of apartheid is now fallow.” (uncultivated or unproductive).
The same article elaborates further: “Land redistribution will work for those willing to go back to participate in an organized best technology and the best farm management. Otherwise this is a fruitless operation”.
Two thirds of South Africans now live in the cities, and they are not going back.
37% of South Africans are unemployed and indeed, according to 70 % of South Africans recently surveyed, unemployment is the country’s biggest worry, while a mere 2% said that farming is.
Farming is only about 2 % of the South African economy, therefore the solution for job recovery will not happen by undermining the agriculture sector and food production.
The hard truths are that there is a migration to the cities of people that are attracted to more skilled job opportunities, education and overall quality of life for their families, that rural environment does not provide.
It’s a worldwide trend for all levels of civilization, independently of being developed nations or underdeveloped nations.
The fact that the future is urban is a reality that politicians cannot ignore and South African is not an exception.
Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a successful businessman before being President of South Africa, may value this standpoint and look at solutions from a viewpoint that the revitalization of the economy is in the diversification, industrialization and successful commercial activity and, yes, land and homeownership, in the urban areas, where the real redistribution, conducive to get jobs for the unemployed, will have to take place