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Search for common ground in land-reform debate

Author: Brian Whittaker

WHAT is the courageous conversation we are not yet having with the unknown future — the world that lies over the horizon, but has not yet been fully articulated? The poet, David Whyte, wants to know. We are not good at these conversations because they take us into the unknown. But in a world in distress, they are the conversations we must have if we are to move beyond a sense of foreboding to charting a new course. This is true for many areas of South African life: economic growth, poverty, inequality, race, land. It is difficult to see what lies beyond the horizon, and there is a growing sense of unease about our future.


With these concerns in mind, a group of South Africans got together at the beginning of last year to think about the future of land reform. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the process to date. It is proceeding too slowly to meet escalating expectations. While the promise of a large-scale asset transfer programme is that it can improve incomes, reduce poverty, enhance livelihoods and reduce inequality, the results are often disappointing. The economic productivity of transferred land collapses; jobs are lost, local economies are damaged and food security is threatened.

There are disagreements about what land reform should try to do: restore rights; change the pattern of land ownership; improve livelihoods; create a small-scale farmer class; deracialise commercial agriculture.


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