Land Rights: Ideas for Land Redistribution

A woman standing in a vegetable field.
Cattle grazing near a cluster of houses in the Eastern Cape province.

With millions of people going to bed hungry every night, South Africa has a pronounced poverty problem. This dire situation, logically enough, has put pressure on the government to do something about it. One solution that has been suggested is that the government grant farmland to poor people so that they can grow crops or raise livestock, which would enable them to support their families.

If the government, in accordance with the previously mentioned suggestion, did decide to provide a substantial number of poor people with farmland, it would first have to expropriate land from those who already own considerable acreages. In such a case, the land that would be most just to take, it has been argued, would be land owned by white people, since whites still own more land per capita than people of other racial backgrounds. If this confiscated land was then redistributed to non-whites, proponents of expropriations hold, both racial inequality and income inequality would decrease. Furthermore, in this way, the same voices claim, land that was stolen from blacks throughout history would once again come into black ownership.

Complexities and complaints

The many perceived benefits of expropriations notwithstanding, comprehensive land redistribution is not uncomplicated or even necessarily just. White farmers holding title deeds today argue that not all land that whites own was stolen, and that there is legal recourse if someone has a rightful claim to land and can prove it. Arbitrary expropriations, they say, would only create new injustices, an argument that post-apartheid governments historically have agreed with.

Nevertheless, a majority of people on all sides of the debate agree that non-whites deserve compensation for the forced removals that have occurred throughout history. In line with this opinion, land transfers of various kinds to non-whites have also been made. Even so, those who are still dispossessed, or simply poor, contend that land redistribution is going much too slowly, a frustration that — as explained in the next chapter — has led to some drastic actions being taken.