In all countries where market-assisted land reforms have been undertaken, the outcomes have been disappointing. In the case of Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe and Namibia, and more recently, South Africa, market assisted land reforms have served to justify and legalise colonial land apportionment, and effectively freeze in time all that has gone before.
In the course of colonial expansion in SA, millions of people were uprooted from their ancestral lands, often with deliberate cruelty, and always without compensation. Those who tried to take advantage of the new conditions were ruthlessly crushed, forcibly dispossessed and moved from their lands into the reserves. Yet, while the need for redress is acknowledged, it is proposed that this legacy be addressed through the willing consent of those who benefited from colonial and apartheid plunder. The mechanism for this is the market and the principle that of willing-buyer, willing-seller. The implication is that those who now own the land will either willingly give up portions of their ill-gotten gains or that the state has enormous financial reserves which will allow it to buy up huge tracts of viable farmland with which to satisfy the land hungry. Unsurprisingly, neither of these assumptions has proved correct and the result is that the colonial and apartheid status quo in land relations have been largely left intact.
The patterns of power and privilege in SA have been shaped by the historical dispossession of the majority of people of their right to use and control the country's natural resources. In its wake it has left millions of Black people desperately poor and without any means for survival. The rural poor in South Africa are beginning to look to land and its productive use as a means of livelihood and food security. Given the high levels of unemployment and the limited opportunities for investment in the hinterland of the country, this is not only an option but an imperative. But for land an agrarian reform to begin to resolve the issue of rural poverty, vast changes are needed. Rural people need access to land, tenure security, agricultural support and an environment that is conducive to small-scale farming. The combination of desperate poverty and perceived injustice is a power keg. Extra-ordinary measures are urgently needed to restructure the current land ownership and distorted land use patterns as well as to reverse the conscious underdevelopment of the reserves. The success of our democracy depends on this.