SA: Don't repeat Zim's 5 land grab mistakes

SA: Don't repeat Zim's 5 land grab mistakes

With Parliament's recent vote in favour of land expropriation without compensation, there are concerns that the radical move to fast track land reform will result in an economic collapse equivalent to Zimbabwe's.

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South Africa's northern neighbour managed to displace white farmers, replacing them with black tenants in an effort to redress social imbalances, but the effects were not as desirable as one might have hoped.

Zimbabwe's economic and social collapse came about as those who were given land - due to lack of knowledge, resources and the desire to utilise it - have failed to produce enough food for the nation. Others, who also benefited from the chaotic land reform programme, only did so for speculative purposes and are holding on to vast tracts of idle land. takes a look at five mistakes which South Africa will hopefully avoid if land reform is to be successful without resulting in an economic collapse.

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1. Don't give land to people who don't know how to use it

Zimbabwe made the mistake of giving land to farmers who ploughed and applied fertilisers without any knowledge about the type of soil in use.

In South Africa, if land is to be taken, it should be given to those who have the knowledge, the resources and the desire to use it to its full purpose.

In addition, people should be given land fit for the purpose they want to use it for. It makes no sense to give land suited for crops to a farmer who wants to embark on cattle ranching.

2. Don't restrict land ownership to the state

Following the land reform in Zimbabwe, all land was said to belong to the state, with farmers getting no title for the land that they would have been allocated.

This made farmers reluctant to invest in meaningful infrastructure on a piece of land they could be thrown off of at any time.

Land without title also meant it could not be used for collateral leaving the new farmers, in need of adequate resources, stranded as they could not borrow to capitalise and run the farming business.

3. Don't remove the desire to succeed

Ownership of property gives people the incentive they need to succeed at their endeavours. In South Africa, the only certainty that can motivate the farmer and funders to pour in financial resources, is if they own the land.

4. Do not underestimate the effect that farming has on the economy

Zimbabwean economist, John Robertson, wrote in a paper entitled: 'Strengthening Africa’s economic performance', published in November 2017 by the Brenthurst Foundation, “A key reason for the crash that destroyed Zimbabwe’s manufacturing sector was the government’s failure to recognise that commercial farming was an industry with complex links into every other industrial sector.”

Before a farm is expropriated, the whole chain must be looked at to ensure what happens on the farm will not affect other industries negatively.

As an example, Zimbabwe is currently importing more than half of its milk requirements from South Africa, but this has not always been the case.

The country last year produced only 65 million litres of milk against annual requirements of 120 million litres. This is the same country that used to produce about 300 million litres of milk back in the 1990s, before the dairy herd was destroyed after land reform.

5. Bad moves wreak havoc further down the value chain

Using Zimbabwe's dairy example, the upstream economic effects were felt as suppliers of products produced from raw milk were affected by the lack of stock. Jobs were lost as companies had to downscale while others closed.

Downstream of the value chain, with the dairy herd gone, so too the consumers of stockfeeds, veterinary services, vaccines, etc were affected. This again leads to the loss of jobs and closure of companies.

Zimbabwe's once thriving industrial areas are now worn-out shells, mostly due to the country's chaotic land reforms processes.

The dairy industry is just an example, but you can take any crop, plant or agricultural activity and appreciate the linkages with upstream and downstream industries.

As South Africa begins the process of radical land reform, it is to be hoped that the authorities and those involved will mediate the process to ensure the agricultural industry remains stable.

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