Women are marginalised in the agricultural sector

Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

The report of the High Level Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture chaired by Dr Vuyokazi Mahlathi is sharply raising the marginalisation of women in agriculture as a very serious challenge that government must confront. The Panel reveals that women are marginalised within the land redistribution programme, constituting less than a quarter of land reform beneficiaries nationally. Just imagine, twenty-five years into democracy, South African women are still carrying the cross of oppression and deprivation.

The report goes further and make this startling observation about land and gender relations: “The system of patriarchy which dominates social organisation has tended to discriminate against women when it comes to ownership and control of land resources…”  The Panel puts this matter on the table as the country celebrates August month, is steal seized with the expropriation of land without compensation. The report streamlines the raging land reform and agriculture discourse and put into sharp focus other related and often unattended matters like gender relations in land reform and agriculture, criterion thereof to be used in allocating land to the landless people is critical.

In unpacking gender, relations in land reform and agriculture the Panel points to a social construct that we must seek to deconstruct at various levels. In this instance, that deconstruction focus at ingrained misogyny and patriarchy as immediate targets. The marginalisation of women according to the Report is entrenched in the redistribution pillar of the 1997 White Paper on South African Land Policy. What that means therefore is that the South African land policy as succinctly articulated in the White Paper is regressive and backward in as far as land redistribution is concerned. This is not to suggest that the drafters of the policy are guilty of misogyny and patriarchy.

The land reform policy is the first level of attack that we as policy makers, analyst and commentators we must begin to mount. There is a substantial body of empirical evidence that points to the three pillars (redistribution, restitution and tenure security) being the main contributors to the slow pace of land reform in South Africa. The best thing that government can or must do it to overhaul completely the 1997 White Paper on South African Land Policy. Its interrelated pillars as they stand are not at all aiding the land reform process to move faster.

The redistribution programme must have a particular bias towards women and maybe accommodate young people both girls and boys. The class and gender character of the South African land reform must be clear articulated in an amended 2019 White Paper on South African Land Policy.

The restitution pillar is generally problematic to all the claimants irrespective of gender. The process of proving that your parents, grandparents, ancestors and ancestors were occupants of a land is tedious and laborious and can take twenty years. Government will have to find new and best ways of fast tracking the restitution process.

Tenure security is one pillar of land reform that undermines the right of women to own land as it is entangled in cultural and traditional dogmatism. A classic example is the customary tenure system that is alive and kicking in the rural areas. As it stands, it can go unchallenged, it will have to be reformed and its feudalistic elements will have to be tampered with fearlessly. Unavoidably, government will have to lock horns and alienate certain class forces as it seeks to disentangle the tenure security from this dogmatism.

It remains to be seen whether government will have the wherewithal and requisite stamina to wage that war particularly with traditional institutions in the rural areas. Once the fault lines have been eliminated at a policy level, it will therefore be easy to fix ownership patterns and structures in land and agriculture.

Another site of attack that government must focus on is the agricultural development finance landscape. It remains fundamentally uneven and perpetuates the marginalisation of women across the board. Many women in the countryside side are widowed, unskilled and surely have no income that would normally improve their credit ratings. In more often than not the credit policies of commercial banks, agricultural cooperatives and development finance institutions discriminate against women. Many of the institutions are not risk averse as a result the per centage of women transactions in their loan books is terrible low. This is a gap that the proposed Land Reform Fund will have to address urgently once it is up and running.

The Land Reform Fund will have to focus on bringing more women into the agricultural sector. Women have a wealth of experience in working the land. In the countryside across the length and breadth of the African continent, women have always been at the centre of food production. Working the land with the hoes while carrying children at their backs. Ministers Didiza’s immediate task must be to make sure that more women are brought into the agriculture sector during her tenure. Surely, South Africa will begin to see the real growth of the agricultural sector, increase GDP contribution and employment creation.

The current economic climate with unemployment standing at 29% requires a radical shift in the country’s economic thinking and planning. Agriculture fundamentally remains a sunrise sector that will always propel economic growth to the new heights if interventions in the sector are well calculated and inclusive. The only thing that is needed currently is to reconfigure and reorientate agricultural agencies towards the empowerment of women in agriculture. Minister Thoko Didiza is better equipped to confront and defeat the marginalisation of women in land reform and agriculture. Minister, we trust you will make a difference for the South African women and nation.


Zamikhaya Maseti is a Public and Sector Policy Specialist and Khanyani Mdingi an Intern Corporate, Social Investment and Stakeholder Relations at Land Bank. They write in their personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are their own and do not necessarily represent policy positions of Land Bank.