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How big is the demand for land in South Africa

22 February 2019

What has been happening in parliament are terms of land reformation?

Land reform is a movement that is hotly debated, especially with Parliament moving forward on the policies surrounding it. But what do people want the land for?

Peter Bruce, a former editor at Business Day, was recently questioned by the EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi as to why he had claimed in a column that only ‘a tiny minority of black people want to farm’. Speaking as a guest host on As It Happens, an eNCA show, Ndlozi had been curious as to the source of Bruce’s claim. Only later it became apparent that Bruce had been misquoted and that his actual claim had been: ‘Only a fraction of our population wants to farm’.

Bruce said ‘I still believe that’s just too obvious to have to ‘source’. I’m writing an opinion column here, not a PhD dissertation.’

Africa Check took it upon them to investigate the claim, observing five surveys taken in South Africa to pin down the demand for land. In the early transformative years of 1994/5, the Land Reform Research Programme of the LAPC found that 67.7% of national black rural households had wanted the land for farming. However, the organisation cautioned that the information should be viewed with care as there had been issues in the way questions had been asked as well as how data had been collected and analysed.

These issues included how farming had been defined as well as the fact that only a small portion of the country had been interviewed. The organisation deemed the findings were not an accurate representation of the entire demographic and said that the results were at best an indication of trends.

A study commissioned by the Centre for Development and Enterprise

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) had commissioned the study. The results had found that 9% of Africans who were not farmers had desired land where they could live and farm ‘even if I struggled’. A further 23% said they would also like farmland, but only if they would earn good money. 38% of the group had admitted to preferring a home as well as work in an urban area instead.

The study had concluded that the African population did not deem access to rural land and agricultural opportunities as their goal. The research also claimed that most nationals saw land mainly regarding a ‘place to stay’, not a ‘place to farm’.

Ruth Hall, a professor at the University of the Western Cape Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, had said that wanting the land for settlement and wanting the land for farming were not mutually exclusive. “It’s important to point out that a lot of people want access to land for a secure place to live plus a little bit more. That doesn’t mean that they want to be full-time farmers. And I think that the options that have been provided to date – which is either you become a full-time commercial farmer, or you leave with nothing – has been such a false choice set up for people.”

A 2017 study by the Institute for Race Relations

The most recent study considered had been undertaken in 2015 by the Institute for Race Relations and had asked over 2 200 people over the age of 16 to choose between receiving rural land for farming or getting land for housing in towns and cities.

This study had found around 37% of the population had preferred farmland. 58.3% had opted instead for land close to towns. However, this line of thinking had disregarded the demand for small-scale farming in urban areas.

The IRR’s head of policy research, Anthea Jeffery had declined the opportunity to comment on the findings. “The distinction between settlement and agriculture is often a false distinction for people who are poor, who have a history in farming – they might have been farm workers or might have lived in communal areas – but now they need to be close to the city. So we need hybrid models.”