Thursday, November 05, 2009

...and, speaking of ethics...

This report from the BBC is not new, but it has only just come to my attention.

Once the African National Congress came to power in 1994, the South African government embarked on a programme of land redistribution. The stated goal was that 30% of agricultural land was to be placed in the hands of black people by 2014. To this end, farms were taken away from their white owners and restored to the black communities from whom the land had been taken generations before. Special loan provisions were made available to black farmers who wanted to buy land.

The problem is that much of this land has not been farmed since these provisions were set in place. You can imagine how this impinges upon the food supply and the economy of the region. You can imagine, too, how indignant are the erstwhile owners of the land and how divisive the situation is.

In a surprising move, the South African Agricultural minister has issued a 'use it or lose it' ultimatum. Having set the precedent for taking land from the hands of one group of people it deems unsuitable, it looks as if the government is quite ready to repeat the action.

Interestingly, this story appears to have received less coverage on South African websites than in the UK.

It may have been possible to justify the land redistribution the first time around, on the grounds of history and violated rights and such - although many would dispute that - but I find it interesting that the South African government would consider it within its rights to dictate how an individual may use (or not) the land that he owns, and to take it from him if he fails to comply. Does this fall within the tenets of democracy?

Of course I am saddened by the impact of the reduction in the food production. Of course I am concerned that the current owners of so many farms have allowed them to fall into disuse when the previous owners - forcibly removed - were farming them productively. Of course I dread the logical outcome of this situation.

Nevertheless, I wonder about the ethics of this move...


V Yonkers said...

Most countries have some type of system in place to make sure land is being used effectively. In the US, our property taxes means that you will need to pay to NOT use your land. However, if it is deemed in the public interest that the land is used for public use (i.e. public building, roads, parks) then they need to pay the owner to confiscate the land. Granted, it is usually a lower price than you might get if you were to sell it to a private entity.

Just one question: when the land was returned, was it with the understanding that it would be farmed and then were the new owners trained to farm it?

The upsycho said...

@V_Yonkers I'm not sure that any such expectation was formalised or even verbalised. Training is always a tricky one. Several countries in the developed world launched training initiatives in the region over the years. The problem is that these were always aimed at men. While, in traditional southern African culture, it is the women who work the land. The problem is that they have tended to do so on a subsistence scale, so large scale farming is not really known.

I suspect that what was needed was a training solution that took into account the culture of the people in the area. Sadly, this has always been a shortcoming of training provisions that come from well-meaning first worlders. Because the method they're teaching works where they come from, they assume that it will work in whichever developing world country it's being foisted upon... er... offered to... they just need to persuade those people to give it a try. Which is not unlike a lefty teaching a righty to knit/fence/box/whatever left handed, beacause that's how they do it and it works for them.

On the other hand, the new owners had probably worked the land for generations on a subsistence basis and it didn't occur to them that those methods weren't going to work on a large scale. People don't know what they don't know, after all.