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South African Farms Still Short Black Farmers


In South Africa, the topic of homeownership comes down to land and race. At the end of apartheid, the new South African government laid out many plans for achieving economic and social equality, which included land reform. The government hoped to transfer nearly a third of all white-owned farmlands into black ownership by 2014. But as Anders Kelto reports, they're falling well short of that goal.


ANDERS KELTO, BYLINE: On a vegetable farm 20 miles north of Cape Town, James Chandler looks over a field. But in truth, it looks more like a wild prairie than a farm. The only sign that crops once grew here are the rows of sprinkler heads peeking out from beneath the tall weeds.

JAMES CHANDLER: Yeah, the butternut were growing up on here and cauliflower and pumpkin and so on.

KELTO: And what have you grown on here since?

CHANDLER: Nothing.

KELTO: Chandler took over this 20-acre farm near Malmesbury earlier this year. The government purchased it from a white owner and is now leasing it to Chandler, who is black, free of charge. But Chandler didn't have much farming experience, so he was supposed to be given a mentor. That was nine months ago, and he's still waiting. He says he and his family are now struggling.

CHANDLER: Because I got no income from the government side. They put me here as a caretaker, without salary, without nothing.

KELTO: So, he's resorted to the only kind of farming he knows.


KELTO: Behind his house, a dozen piglets run around a small pen. Earlier this year, South Africa's minister of rural development announced that just 5 percent of the nation's farmlands have been transferred to black owners since the end of apartheid 17 years ago. That's well short of the goal of 30 percent by 2014 - a goal that the minister has since acknowledged is impossible. To make matters worse, he said 90 percent of the farms that have been transferred to black owners have seen a decline in food production. Many have failed altogether. And in some cases, black farmers have sold the farms back to the original white owners.

RUTH HALL: What has been learned over the last 17 years is that transferring the land by itself is simply not enough.

KELTO: Ruth Hall is a professor of land rights and agrarian reform at the University of the Western Cape. She says poor black farmers, many of whom were farm laborers during apartheid, haven't been given proper training or support. They lack start-up capital, and don't have a good knowledge of crop markets.

HALL: New black farmers, who are benefiting from land reform, are entering a very hostile environment, in which it's very difficult for them to compete.

KELTO: And yet, while the policy has largely failed, some politicians have called for even more aggressive reforms.


KELTO: Julius Malema is the firebrand former president of the African National Congress youth league. Before being suspended by his political party in early November, he mobilized thousands of young people to march through Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, calling for jobs and radical economic reforms. They demanded the nationalization of South Africa's farms, mines, and other assets.


KELTO: Malema's message hasn't been welcomed by most senior ANC officials. But it has resonated with many in a country where unemployment is close to 40 percent, and even higher among young people. Unemployed youths, such as Devon Manyana, often say it's impossible to find a job after college.

DEVON MANYANA: When are we going to get opportunities? We only go to school, but we cannot have a job. We cannot have opportunities. Now, we are in universities, we are paying a huge amount. But still, we can't have a job.

KELTO: But Professor Ruth Hall says Malema's suggested solution - nationalization - isn't an option.

HALL: Nationalization is not on the cards politically. But at the same time, the fact that Malema's call for nationalization seems to have struck a chord with some sectors of South African society - reflects the widespread frustration with moderate and cautious ANC policies.

KELTO: In Simonstown, a quiet, coastal city just south of Cape Town, Joe Frylink sits in his living room. Together with his wife Simone, Frylink spent seven years building up the vegetable farm that now belongs to James Chandler. I show him pictures of the overgrown fields.

JOE FRYLINK: To look at it now, just derelict like this, it really - well, it's heartbreaking.

KELTO: But the irony is that the redistribution of farmlands, which was supposed to benefit black South Africans, is often benefiting white South Africans like Frylink instead. He was happy to sell his farm to the government because it wasn't making money anymore. Rising fuel and electricity costs were to blame. So, he sold the land and used the money to move here to Simonstown, where life is calm, and there's a wonderful view of the ocean. For NPR News, I'm Anders Kelto in Cape Town, South Africa.


CORNISH: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.