Land reform beneficiaries can play a part towards poverty alleviation – and it all starts with good governance

If we are to address poverty in rural South Africa, we must prioritise good governance practices in those areas where ownership of land has been restored, says the writer.

Land reform beneficiaries have a role to play towards poverty alleviation writes Peter Setou of the Vumelana Advisory Fund, a non-profit organisation that helps communities in the land reform programme registered under the Communal Property Association Act and the Trust Property Control Act to put their land to profitable use by establishing commercially viable partnerships between communities and investors.
31 August 2017, South Africa: If we are to address poverty in rural South Africa, we must prioritise good governance practices amongst communal property institutions in order to ensure that beneficiaries of the land reform programme begin to drive job creation and play their part towards poverty alleviation. Whilst land reform remains a contentious and emotive issue, productive use of restored land is a plausible solution to addressing some of the challenges relating to poverty in the rural areas. One of the challenges in land reform, however, is ensuring good governance practices in those areas where ownership of land has been restored. 
According to the International Land Coalition Asia, 70% of the world’s poor live in rural areas where land is a fundamental asset and a primary source of income, security, opportunity and status. The institution states that secure land rights can make a difference for the world’s poorest families and that legal rights to land will improve the resiliency of families so they can climb out of extreme poverty.
While some progress has been made in South Africa towards ensuring restitution of land rights, a lot more still needs to be addressed to ensure that land is used productively and managed well. This is becoming more urgent due to the increase in the number of people living below the poverty line in South Africa’s rural areas, as recently announced by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) in the poverty trends study.
We cannot attract investments and have sustainable productivity on land if we do not address governance practices amongst beneficiaries of land reform, and in turn cannot address issues of poverty in rural areas if we obtain land and cannot make it productive for the beneficiaries of land reform.
According to Stats SA, black Africans and especially children aged 17 years or younger, females, people from rural areas, those living in the Eastern Cape or Limpopo, and those with little or no education, are more affected by poverty.
South Africa has some of the most fertile farming soil in the region. To see places like the Eastern Cape and Limpopo having the highest number of people living below the poverty line raises a huge concern.
Post settlement support of beneficiaries of the land reform programme is necessary to drive productivity of land, and enable beneficiaries of land reform to begin to employ the numbers commercial farmers traditionally employed on farms in the past.
It is time to increase collaboration amongst sector players, time for investors and willing commercial farmers to work side by side with communities in ensuring that land becomes more productive. This can only be done with those beneficiaries who are willing to adopt good governance practices and transparency in managing their affairs.
According to the Communal Property Associations Act 28 of 1996, CPAs are required to hold annual general meetings and submit basic information to the Department Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR). The information required includes the names of committee members, minutes of Annual General Meetings, a schedule of dealings in land and financial statements.
However, most CPAs are unable to comply with these basic requirements. Some of the main challenges reported in the Communal Property Associations 2015-2016 Annual Report include issues around the election of new committee members which are often obfuscated by the previous committees whose term of office has expired; that committee members often use the resources of the CPAs for their personal benefit; that committee members do not keep proper records of CPA finances and minutes of meeting where major decisions are taken regarding the assets of the CPAs; unaccountability of the CPA executive committee is prevalent where the CPA is used both as a land-holding entity and business entity. provincial officials who facilitated the establishment CPAs are expected to continue supporting CPAs.

Compliance with these basic requirements for good governance remains one of the biggest challenges that beneficiaries of the land reform programme face, and presents even more challenges in the productivity of land or those farms that have been given back to communities – as such farms cannot do business with investors which is critical for job creation, income generation and skills upliftment.
Most of the farms that were traditionally used for commercial farming are now being used for subsistence farming, because there isn’t enough support at foundational level to boost their productivity to sustain commercial productivity. It all starts with good governance practices.
If we are to address poverty issues, we must prioritise these seemingly small but important things, to ensure that beneficiaries of the land reform programme begin to drive job creation and in turn play a part towards poverty alleviation.
For more information about the Vumelana Advisory Fund, please visit