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Land reform and black empowerment in South Africa – lessons from Zimbabwe

Ever since the acquisition of independence by Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1980 and 1994, respectively, the issue of land reform and black empowerment has remained a topical issue. Soon after independence, both countries engaged in land acquisition programs employing the “willing seller, willing buyer” concept; much to the gratification of the Bretton Woods Institution and the then imperialists who forced the concept on the politically independent Southern African countries. This was a sad case, since the chimurenga war in Zimbabwe and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa were all stirred by the need for holistic land ownership. For both liberation movements, this was a case of winning the battle but losing the war. To date, the “willing seller, willing buyer” concept with its capacity short falls is still the governing model of land reform in South Africa.

Contrary to this, Zimbabwe in 1999/2000 engaged in historic fast track land reform that witnessed land redistribution from the white minority to the poverty stricken black majority. However the land reform fused a train of events that has resulted in international derogation of Zimbabwe, plus economic and political turmoil engineered through propaganda coupled with neo-liberal, regime change political projects. In this light, the South African government can draw valuable lessons from the Zimbabwe predicament by engaging in a more cautious, yet speedy, land reform, which is instrumental in poverty alleviation and transformation of the currently skewed land ownership and income per capita distribution, without deterring foreign direct investment. Though Zimbabwe drowns in the murky waters of economic turmoil, black Zimbabweans are empowered and enjoy ownership of arable tracts of land. The same cannot be said for South Africa, which has deep seated disequilibrium in land ownership and a mind boggling poverty gap between the poor households and the elite in a surprisingly upper middle income country.

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