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Farm worker agri-villages: Back to resettlement schemes?

18 March 2011

by PLAAS Senior Researcher Ruth Hall

Nobody seems to like this bill. It has raised the ire of both of the constituencies whose interests it sets out to address: those who own commercial farms and those who live and work on them. Contrary to its name, the Land Tenure Security Bill appears to deal largely not with how to secure people’s land tenure, but rather how to manage their resettlement off farms.

Replacing failed (and unimplemented) laws

It is to replace two post-apartheid laws: the Extension of the Security of Tenure Act 62 of 1997 (ESTA) and the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act 3 of 1996 (LTA). These two laws set out to secure the rights of farm dwellers (all people who live on farms, not only those employed) to the houses, land, water, firewood and other goods and services that they already accessed on farms, and to prevent arbitrary evictions.

They failed. The only national survey on evictions (conducted by Nkuzi Development Association and Social Surveys) showed that more people were evicted from farms in the first ten years of democracy (1994-2003) than in the preceding ten years, and only one percent of these evictions involved legal proceedings and a court order – as required in our Constitution.  Only one farm owner was prosecuted for illegal eviction. In short, the state has simply shown very little inclination to implement or enforce these existing laws.

What does the new bill say?

Like the existing laws, it protects the rights of people living on farms to continue to do so, except where the owner applies for a court order for their eviction. It gives special rights to people over the age of 60 to remain on farms for the rest of their lives, but these rights are not heritable, and so their families can be evicted following the death of a family elder.

The entire chapter of ESTA that dealt with how farm dwellers could secure and upgrade their rights on farms has been removed, together with the provisions for government to assist people to do so. Instead, those facing eviction will have one choice: move into an ‘agri-village’. There, they will acquire ‘temporary permits’ to occupy land and housing, but could later be removed to make way for others who can show better ability to use the land – in other words, their tenure will not necessarily be more secure in these agri-villages than it was on farms. As tenants of the state, they will be subject to the rules of a new Land Rights Management Board, a national body consisting of nine people who will decide who gets to stay in these villages, will issue temporary permits, and will resolve disputes. What role municipalities are expected to play, whether they are in agreement about this new expanded responsibility, or able to fund and provide required infrastructure and services, is unclear; they are not mentioned in the bill.

Addressing farmers’ concerns

This focus on agri-villages is in line with AgriSA’s vision of settlement in the rural areas, as contained in its land reform policy. Under the new plan, dense new settlements of ex-farm workers who will be accommodated on land acquired and serviced by government, and yet remain available for seasonal and informal work on farms when required.

In reality, most objections by farmers are not to new legal provisions, but (a) to the existing laws that are now to be joined in this new bill, and (b) the political rhetoric from government that has accompanied the bill, including in a policy statement attached to it.

Agri-villages not the answer

Farm worker unions and land rights organisations are also protesting against the bill – with some warning that, if it is promulgated, they will challenge it in court. They claim the bill does nothing to secure people’s tenure on farms, or to remedy the failings of the existing laws.

I agree: the answer is not to embark on massive resettlement schemes that will move the rural poor – including those evicted from farms – into new settlements, without the means of building their own economic activities. At best, they would have the benefit of state services and be able to continue to work on surrounding farms. At worst, though, these could well become the new dumping grounds, devoid of economic opportunities, with poor public services and without any independent rights to land, water and other resources.

The great irony, then, is that the Land Tenure Security Bill shifts the focus away from securing people’s rights, to facilitating their eviction and resettlement.

It is unclear what problems it is meant to solve, or whose interests it is meant to address.

The bill is highly unlikely to be passed in its current form, and so its publication should stimulate debate not merely on its flawed provisions, but on an alternative paradigm that can guide the future of rural settlement and secure the rights of farm dwellers.

Previously published in Grocotts Mail, Grahamstown
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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ruth Hall permalink
    30 March 2011 2:51 pm

    Hi Ben, you’re right that new types of settlement must be considered if we are to move beyond the dualism of commercial farms versus ex-Bantustans. I think that in the South African debate now there are two rather distinct concerns about agrivillages as ‘the answer’ to tenure insecurity. First, there’s the longstanding (procedural) concern about state-planned and implemented resettlement schemes that are top-down and smack of apartheid-era social engineering. Second, there’s a (substantive) concern about what land people will have access to in agrivillages, what they can do with it, what livelihoods are really possbile there – and whether this is really what farm dwellers want and need. Smallholder farming regions with appropriate services and infrastructure might be very welcome, but ‘agrivillages’ have been equated with small settlements without the means to generate economic activities of their own – hence the fear that we might be producing dumping grounds. Plus there is no legal mechanism to secure tenure rights even within these agrivillages – and so the evicted may be subject to further dispossession and displacement. The focus of this Bill is where the evicted should be put. But for many farm dwellers, the argument is straightforward: tenure security means not facing eviction.

  2. 18 March 2011 4:44 pm

    Not a new version of mini-bantustans – “agri-villages” – a pool of cheap labour for the profit-maximising agri-industry could be the appropriate response to the challenge concerning the rights and the future of residents and workers on “commercial farms” in post-apartheid South Africa today: Access to arable land, equipment and infrastructure including health-services, schools and roads would encourage families on countryside to invest at long-term human effort and experience in developing sustainable small-scale entities, establishing livelihoods and maintaining production- and consumption-networks in rural areas. Would that not be the most effective measure to ensure “land tenure security”, phase out and substitute the inherited system of “commercial farms”?

    • 23 March 2011 12:30 pm

      Hi Ben
      Ruth is out of internet access right now, but I have asked her to respond at her earliest opportunity.
      Regards
      Rebecca

  3. 18 March 2011 3:03 pm

    Congratulations. A very clear, crisp argument.

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