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Saturday, 8 September, 2001, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
SA land reform frustration builds
squatters waiting eviction
For those in overcrowded conditions unused land is tempting
By the BBC's Alex van Wel

The agreement on Zimbabwe land redistribution at the Commonwealth meeting in Abuja will have been closely followed in South Africa.

Some people are also resentful at what they see as a failure to address the link between racism and landlessness at the World Conference in Durban.

President Mbeki
Mbeki's government has taken a tough stance on squatters
And their presence in Durban reflects a new radicalism that has emerged in South Africa in the form of the landless people's movement, a coalition of NGOs concerned about the slow pace of land reform.

"Power to the people" was the cry from members of the landless people's assembly, a gathering of more than 3000 dispossessed on the fringe of Durban's racism conference.

Slow moving

When the African National Congress (ANC) came to power seven years ago, 13% of the land was in the hands of black people, who make up 80% of the population.

Zeiks Slatiswaya, director of the National Land Committee says only 2% has been redistributed.

"I don't want to be a prophet of doom, but we have said before, in 1994, that unless the government fast-tracks land reform, we are likely to get re-occupations and land occupations," said Mr Slatiswaya.

"That was long before Zimbabwe, and we're beginning to see that happening," he warned.

There have already been occupations of land at Brudel near Johannesburg, in the Cape and in KwaZulu Natal.

But unlike Zimbabwe, the South African Government has dealt firmly with illegal occupations, forcibly removing squatters from Brudel.

At the same time it says it is doing what it can to bring about land reform through a number of processes.

Land 'restitution'

The most controversial of these is restitution, aiming to return land to those who can show they previously owned it.

But that has been extremely slow in implementation. The Land Affairs Minister, Thoko Didiza, told me it was a question of balancing different interests.

I want my land back, and the government is not doing that. The government won't even negotiate on our behalf

South African farmer

"The way in which a government interacts with its society must also bear in mind the need of agencies, while at the same time you ensure that you work within the framework - that you don't solve one problem and create another and instability on the other," she said.

But for people like Randall Rouseau this explanation offers little comfort. His father had his land in the Eastern Cape taken away by a white farmer during the apartheid years.

Now, more than seven years after the end of the regime, Randall is still fighting to recover his family property.

"I'm angry at the process, because we try to talk to government to speed up the process. And I can assure you that I don't want to invade, but we can negotiate," he said.

"But I want my land back, and the government is not doing that. The government won't even negotiate on our behalf."

White land-owners' fear

The landless people have been singing in perfect harmony in Durban but their message sends discord through the white land-owning class.

Looted farm
There has been widespread looting of white farms in Zimbabwe
They worry that although the government may now be willing to uphold their property rights, the pressure for reform might lead South Africa to follow the path of Zimbabwe, where there have been land invasions on a massive scale.

Peter Stockhill farms in the Drakensburg mountains of northern Kwa Zulu Natal. He says he is in favour of redistributing land.

"Probably 80% of the farmers out there would welcome an African farmer neighbour to farm the farm next door.

Zimbabwe's lessons

South Africa's landowners know they will have to accept change as the country moves further down the road towards an equal society.

For them, Zimbabwe's experience is a sober reminder of what might happen if the government fails to bring about proper reform.

For the landless it brings hope that the redistribution may become a reality.

See also:

07 Sep 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe commits to land deal
05 Jul 01 | Africa
SA police arrest squatters
18 May 00 | Africa
'No land crisis in SA' - Mbeki
13 Feb 01 | Africa
SA police and squatters clash
04 Oct 00 | Africa
South Africa squatters win battle
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
21 Mar 01 | Africa
SA farmer wins land reprieve
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