An armed mob, angered over the slow pace of land reform benefits, has launched a Zimbabwean-style invasion of one of South Africa’s new multimillion pound showpiece agricultural reform projects, the biggest yet in value instituted by the post-apartheid government.
Government sources said a mob, armed with knives and machetes, had seized control of Forana farm in the rich farming area of Mpumalanga province over the Easter weekend after threatening and driving off local managers and staff employed by the new owners, a black-run farming cooperative.
The 3,200 hectare farm is part of Tenbosch estate, a R10 billion (£740 million) land-restitution project. It is made up of several farms handed back to four local communities who, since 1923, progressively lost their historic land.
Invaders, mirroring complaints in rural communities across the country, are angry over the few benefits they have seen from the much-heralded land transfer although the new owners made clear it would take several years to turn around land that although originally seized from locals, has been abandoned and neglected for years.
Agribusiness Umlimi, which controls the joint-venture farm management company Makhombo for the Lugedlane community, condemned the action as irresponsible and said that it compromised farming operations and jeopardised the ultimate flow of benefits to the community.
Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, land reform remains one of the country’s most sensitive issues. Government attempts to redress an imbalance that saw whites holding 83 per cent of all land, have largely failed, angering all sides.
Critics say the programme has simply contributed to destroying viable commercial farming sector by drastically reducing the amount of land available for commercial agriculture without bringing any benefit to rural communities.
“I would say that 95 per cent of land transferred under the scheme so far has simply resulted in once productive farms being turned over to subsistence farming,” Chris van Zyl, deputy general manager of the Transvaal Agricultural Union, told The Times.