The farmers are trying to leave South Africa

Farm occupations and land reforms in southern Africa

Robert Mugabe: A change in the constitution allows us to expropriate land without reimbursing the farmers for the price of the land. Unless the old British colonial power creates a fund for it.

Zimbabwe has 6 500 commercial farms. Of these, around 1,500 are government or black owners. The remaining 5,000, with a total of eight million hectares, are owned by nearly 4,000 whites who employ 340,000 farm workers. Including their families, that's two million of the twelve million Zimbabweans. Seven and a half million black people live and work on another 16 million hectares, twice the area.

The President therefore demands that this is unjust and must be changed. After all, the liberation struggle was fought over 20 years ago for the land and not just for power.

Land ownership is similarly unequal in the neighboring countries of South Africa and Namibia. And there, too, following Mugabe's threatened land expropriation of the whites, similar tendencies among the governments are stirring. The South African land minister of the Mandela government, Derek Hanekom, a white man, was fired by Mandela's successor Thabo Mbeki last year and replaced by his black deputy Thoko Didiza. Hanekom had stated:

Derek Hanekom: We do not believe that we can satisfy our people's hunger for land in a period of three or even five years.

Hanekom's successor, Didiza, is far more radical: We need more land and faster than we can pay for it - she said recently - and should therefore also consider expropriating the farms that we need.

In Namibia, too, things are fermenting, as Wolfgang Werner from the economic research institute NEPRU in Windhoek explains about statements made by the Land Minister Pendukeni Ithana:

Wolfgang Werner: Our minister says very clearly: I am black, you are white. We just want to see the country fall back into black hands. But is that really where we want to be? What does it cost the land? What will it cost the economy as a whole if we take this path?

Although in Namibia, as in South Africa, land ownership is protected by law and expropriations without compensation are not allowed, the call for quick access to the white land is getting louder and louder there. Land is a very emotional matter, we hear again and again. The reasoning is simple: Africa is the continent of blacks. The whites came later, colonized the blacks and took their land from them. Therefore, it is part of the liberation that the land finally passes into black ownership.

Nobody denies that the soil in southern Africa is unevenly distributed. In South Africa the whites own two thirds, in Namibia half and in Zimbabwe one third of the arable land. But they only make up between 13 and 1 percent of the population.

Kill the Boer - kill the farmer! A lot of hatred is directed against white farmers. In South Africa, over 700 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994. According to the government, however, these are only normal Cases of crime. The local farmers' association, however, sees a political motivation behind this in many cases, as nothing is stolen in around half of the raids. Since the government is doing too little, it is complicit in this bloody campaign. Piet van Rensburg, head of a private security company:

Piet van Rensburg: I have reports from my informants that a group here in Sebokeng Township is being trained to raid farms.

In Namibia, the government has decided on an ambitious land redistribution program, according to which a quarter of a million black Namibians are to be resettled on previously white farmland. They are given the prospect of maintaining farms of between one thousand and three thousand hectares there. However, economist Wolfgang Werner is skeptical:

Wolfgang Werner: The minister has literally expressed her belief that by redistributing commercial farmland, poverty can be reduced in the long term. Personally, I think that's a lot more problematic. And I believe that the political problem must be solved by continuing to settle black people on commercial farmland who want to farm as a business. Because I believe that smallholder farming will not necessarily increase the living standards of these people.

In Zimbabwe, too, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, although black himself, uses simple propaganda The land is ours - bring it on in doubt:

Morgan Tsvangirai: It is impossible to give land to anyone who wants it. Because land is not only an emotional matter, but also an economic value. You can't just distribute land like confetti.

Agriculture generates 20 percent of the gross national product and 40 percent of the foreign exchange income in Zimbabwe. However, the commercial farms run by whites contribute almost exclusively to this. In Namibia a third and in industrialized South Africa a tenth of the export income comes from agriculture, but here too the white farms are the ones that have the largest share of it.

The reason for this is the different production methods. The black farmers essentially pursue subsistence farming. That means: You practice arable farming and cattle breeding for your own needs and possibly also for local market production. In addition, they each only have relatively small areas. Their herds of cattle and goats, in turn, are limited by watering holes and pastures that are too small. The white farms, on the other hand, operate a market-oriented agriculture that goes far beyond their own needs from the start.

Why don't the black farmers in Africa do the same? Mainly because they don't get any money to invest. Because the banks require the submission of a deed of ownership for loans Title deed. In this way, the borrowers are pledging their farm, so to speak, receiving money for machines and seeds, which they repay after the harvest. But while the whites own their farms, the black peasants have only a temporary power over their land. Because the chief, the traditional leader, decides on land allocation. He can give the soil back to someone else at any time. The major Zimbabwean farmer Ken Drummond outlines the problem:

Ken Drummond: Securing land ownership is vital in order to develop the soil and also to create confidence in the future. If I didn't have a title deed for my land, I would do everything possible in the short term to get as much out of it as possible and invest as little as possible. Because it doesn't stay mine. If you don't give people an incentive to build something, then they won't build anything either - because in the end it would be for someone else and not for themselves.

In other words, real land reform in Africa begins with the subdivision of the arable land and the issuing of title deeds. This is at the heart of any land reform. Africa has enough fertile soil not only to be self-sufficient, but also to rule out any future famine. But this requires proper handling of the soil and market production. Both in turn are only possible if the farmer can plan for the long term and, above all, invest.

However, he logically does not do this if the land can be taken away from him by the chief at any time. Then the soil is only exploited. The result: The earth is becoming increasingly impoverished and offers even fewer people a food base.

Future starvation disasters are inevitable. Because the soil is getting worse and worse. The people to be nourished by it are increasing as a result of the rapid population growth. Without a fundamental change in the entire agricultural production system in Africa, Africans will destroy their continent - and themselves.

Governments are primarily to blame for this. Because they are - in Zimbabwe as well as in South Africa or Namibia - not interested in real land reform. They do not want the issuing of title deeds that enable the farmers to develop their land and also to inherit or sell it. Economist John Robertson:

John Robertson: It is politically more beneficial for the government to deal with subsistence farmers than with landowners. Because then they would be in a completely different situation. As haves, they would have to show less humility towards the government because they would be free and independent individuals. But most African governments just don't want this to happen. That is, the alleged empowerment of the people does not take place. Because empowerment begins with owning and controlling one's own fate and resources.

In other words, farmers are deliberately kept underdeveloped by their own governments. Because so far the rulers have relied on their urban clientele and their interests as well as on the power of the chiefs in the countryside. They in turn tell their people who to vote for in elections. If the governments deprive the chiefs of this power of land distribution, then in future they would have to consider the interests of the majority of their people - the rural population, who make up 80 percent on average. That means that governments would be forced to develop their country, says Robertson:

John Robertson: People say that the government is responsible for development. She has to come and get involved. But it is not in a position to do so, because it exceeds its economic resources to really invest.

Three million hectares, more than a third of what the whites still own, has been bought up by the government in Zimbabwe over the past twenty years and given to landless blacks. However, the land remained in government ownership and the peasants were not given any title deeds.

The main problem, in addition to the lack of targeted and coordinated support for the new settlers, is that the ownership and thus production conditions remained unaffected. All land in the so-called communal areas of Zimbabwe and Namibia or the South African homelands is either state-owned or trustee land to this day.

Governments are very happy to rely on international development aid organizations. These help the small farmers by providing seeds, drilling wells, starting irrigation projects, explaining to women how they grow vegetables and the like.

In doing so, however, the countries of the north are cementing underdevelopment instead of fighting it. Because in the basic problem, says Robertson, they have not changed anything: namely in the completely backward agriculture and the archaic mode of production.

John Robertson: Development aid of any kind only allows one to continue with a system and with methods that made the aid necessary in the first place. Development aid does not eliminate the problem, but makes people dependent on more and more help. You can look all over Africa and find large projects that have long since stopped working - because no one was there to maintain the irrigation pumps, repair the pipes, or stop soil erosion. Because the people there don't think it's their responsibility, because the floor doesn't belong to them.

When the whites came to what is now Zimbabwe a hundred years ago, 500,000 people lived there. Today there are twelve and a half million. And in a good 20 years it will be over 20 million. This means that, in purely mathematical terms, a maximum of three hectares of arable land is available to each Zimbabwean. For the experienced farmer Drummond, this is pure madness.

Ken Drummond: We're giving you five acres here, they say. But if only 500 millimeters of rain falls a year, then he cannot grow much on five hectares. So what use is the land to him? He would then have a roof over his head, but the problem of survival would not be solved. Because he stays poor.

But there are no jobs in the city. The industry only needs a few. Almost 90 percent of school leavers in southern Africa cannot find a job. Each year. A dangerous potential is building up here, because the young people are more educated than their parents, want to prove themselves - and, which is understandable, no longer work somewhere just as gardeners, goatherds or domestic help.

Added to this is the uncertainty: what happens to the farm workers on the white farms if they are expropriated? The current redistribution program in Zimbabwe would put 150,000 black farm workers out of work. In turn, 150,000 black families are to be settled on the farms in order to get a livelihood there as smallholders.

So it would not create new jobs. It's a redistribution because of redistribution. In this way the government can at least show that it is carrying out land reform. In South Africa, the agricultural expert Richard Miller warns against a thoughtless redistribution, because milk and honey do not flow on the white farms either.

Richard Miller: About 20 percent of the 60,000 white farmers here produce 60 percent of the agricultural production. Conversely, 60 percent of white farmers only produce 20 percent. Many of them have now accumulated debts that exceed the value of their farm. That means, in principle, half of South African farmers are actually bankrupt.

In Namibia, on the other hand, many farmers have given up cattle breeding due to the lack of rainy seasons. You have switched to game farms. This allows them to continue to earn an income - the foreign tourists pay substantial amounts to see giraffes, zebras and other animals in the wild. Dividing these lands into small plots and handing them over to subsistence farmers, given the twelve hectares required for a single cattle, would perhaps keep the people alive, but would no longer bring the land any foreign exchange income.

And in Zimbabwe, water is a significant problem everywhere. The construction of a dam, the drilling of wells and the irrigation of arable land cost. But what the commercial farmers were still able to raise, penniless small farmers - even without a deed of ownership and thus without access to credit - will not manage. Farmer Mike Clark just shakes his head over plans to share his farm, which is slated for expropriation.

Mike Clark: If the 15 families that are to be settled here are to be really successful in farming, I don't think that is possible. Because the farm is long and narrow and goes away from the river. Those who are further away then have no water. All water comes from the river. And that doesn't have water all year round either. There just won't be enough water.

The desired expropriation has further consequences in Zimbabwe: The banks there have pulled the emergency brake for fear of an impending collapse of their financial institutions. The white farmers only receive loans if they can prove that their farms are not intended for expropriation. This means that two thirds of the farmers are standing in front of locked bank counters. They already have billions in debt. If they are expropriated, the banks will crash that will not get their loaned funds back. The then expropriated farmers cannot pay, and the state does not want to pay. According to opposition leader Tsvangirai, the whole direction of Mugabe's land reform is wrong:

Morgan Tsvangirai: No country in the world has developed by taking people out of industry and bringing them to the countryside. The development took place because people from the countryside went into industry. And that has to be the strategy for us too.

Also in the first world At the beginning of industrialization - as in Africa today - around 80 percent of the population was active in agriculture. Even they could not provide for themselves or the cities in the event of bad harvests. Today only a few percent of the population in Europe produce a permanent surplus in agriculture using the most modern cultivation methods.

That means: The desired expropriation of white farms in favor of backward and inadequate small-scale production is an economic and thus also a social dead end. The countries of Africa need real land reform - and that means first of all the issuing of title deeds to the small farmers. Then a rural development-oriented government spending policy would have to follow, as well as a liberalization of the economy, so that industrial jobs could be created in the cities. But this requires a fundamental change in the mental and political approach.