South African Land Reform

Over at Samizdata, there has been an ignorant and racist discussion of South Africa’s land reform policies.  Now I don’t throw the term ‘racist’ around lightly – I’ll explain below why I consider the comments there to be racist.  But first let’s deal with the substantive issue.

South African Land Reform

South Africa has a land reform policy in three distinct parts:

  • Restitution
    A person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled either to restitution of that property, or to equitable redress. 68,000 claims were lodged before the deadline (end of 1998), to be arbitrated by a Land Claims Court, overseen by a Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights. After a slow start, more than 62,000 of the claims have now been settled.
  • Redistribution
    The redistribution program, which is separate from restitution, is a policy to increase land ownership by black people by transferring 30% of arable agricultural land. The government provides help to communities and individuals to enable them to buy land from existing land holders on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis, by providing grants to enable the purchase of land (requiring a matching contribution from the buyer). So far, 3% of land has been transferred.
  • Tenure reform
    A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure, or to comparable redress.

Last Thursday, the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights announced that it would serve an expropriation notice on Hannes Visser, the owner of a cattle and arable farm in North West province. This will be the first time that compulsory purchase, rather than a willing-seller sale, has been used to conclude a restitution claim.  The farm was once part of four parcels owned by the Molamu family, which was forced to sell under the apartheid government’s policy of stripping blacks of land and moving them into townships and "homelands." Descendants of the Molamus filed a claim seeking restitution.

Assessment

There is an important distinction between the restitution policy, which is a time-limited, quasi-judicial process to restore land to people who had it removed from them under apartheid’s racist land laws, and the program of redistribution, which is an entirely willing-seller process to buy up land to rebalance land ownership in South Africa. 

It is a testament to the skill and patience of the South African government that the vast majority of land restitution claims have, until now, been settled without any recourse to compulsory purchase, either by buying out the current owners of the land, or by compensating the claimant in other ways.  It is a pity that, in this case, it has not been possible to reach settlement on this basis. In these circumstances, compulsory purchase is apparently the only option remaining to restore to the Molamu family the land that was stolen from them under apartheid. But the decision to use the legal powers force a sale of the land, to return it to its original owners, has nothing to do with the more general policy of land redistribution (for which there are no such powers). 

And yet the reports on the BBC, CNN,and Voice of America, as well in blogs such as Samizdata, (and blogs here, here, here, here, here and here ) have wilfully ignored this distinction. They have all written about  the proposed compulsory purchase of Mr Visser’s farm as if it were part of the land redistribution program. (An honourable mention for Aural Fixations who makes the distinction).

Many of us – including, you might think, some of the bloggers linked above, believe that property rights are an essential component of a functioning economy and a fundamental right in a free society.  And yet when a democratically-elected Government in South Africa attempts to enforce and protect property rights by restoring to people the land that they owned and had taken away from them by racist land laws, in a time-limited program overseen by the courts, and as they are required to do by the Constitution of South Africa, we hear complaints from the conservatives and right wing free marketeers.  It seems that they believe that property rights are only for white folks.  

"I’m not a racist but …" 

Which brings me to my accusation that the bloggers and some of the commenters at Samizdata are racist.  Wherever you find right wing libertarians, racists are not far behind.  When I was a student, the Federation of Conservative Students, hard-line libertarians who supported legalization of hard drugs, distributed badges that said "Hang Mandela".  Now they and their type peddle their racism at Samizdata.

Here are some comments on the blog post that I consider to be racist:

"I have no problem talking about the idiocy, as I see it, of some black attitudes"

"Let them take over the land, run it into the ground (run land into the ground?), and starve themselves right out of the gene pool."

"Prior to the arrival of the eeeevil colonialists in Africa, property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors."

"Farming done in the African manner (eg. Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique) does not have a sterling track record, "

"African cultures haven’t adopted the idea of national identity."

"given the near-total lack of respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa"

"They’ll barbecue the dairy cows, and then come to the West holding out the begging bowl. This is either a racist statement, or else a pretty conservative prediction"

If anyone posted that sort of bile on comments here, I’d delete it. We should have zero tolerance of racism, period. Whoever operates the Samizdata site should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this sort of stuff. 

It will make no difference to anything but for what it is worth I’ve removed the link to Samizdata from my blogroll. There are some serious people who blog at Samizdata (such as Alex Singleton from the Globalization Institute): I hope that they will insist that this sort of racism is not tolerated there, or dissociate themselves from the site.

Up
date 25th September
:  I’ve amended this post to give some of the background to South African land reform.

In the meantime, Tim reckons – see the comments – that "property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors." and "Farming done in the African manner does not have a sterling track record," are both statements of fact.   Both are complete rubbish – they are the fantasies of white colonialists who know nothing about the countries they occupied.   And I don’t care who said them: they are clearly racist, as are the other comments which Tim doesn’t even try to defend.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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33 Comments

  1. “Prior to the arrival of the eeeevil colonialists in Africa, property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors.”
    “Farming done in the African manner (eg. Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique) does not have a sterling track record, ”

    Those two at least seem to me to be statements of fact. They also come from a white South African who left because of his opposition to (active opposition to) apartheid….a few steps ahead of those who would like him to stay put in a rather permanent manner.

    I understand your thoughts on this matter but I do think you’re being a bit sensitive, too much so.

  2. Since I am not a member of Samizdata but rather only a regular in the comments section, I cannot speak on behalf of the whole blog. However, I think this post is a bit unfair. People at Samizdata were reacting to a BBC report. Information in that report may well have been wrong (and thanks for pointing that out, by the way), but the picture as we saw it painted by the BBC was pretty grim. It seems to me that your fight is with the BBC and the other news outlets you’ve cited – not with people who read their reports and react to them. You say that you do not throw around the “racist” label lightly, but I submit that that is exactly what you’re doing if, rather than giving Samizdata the benefit of the doubt by pointing out the error and waiting to see how they will react, you simply accuse them of racism in large writ. In fact, since your comment on Samizdata comes directly after mine – I can only assume that you read my clear opinion on the matter, which is that there is nothing wrong with restoring land to an individual if it was stolen from his family. Since that is what you say is happening, my objection to the policy and the objections of many who posted comments are removed.

    I notice you haven’t said anything about the fact that the article you linked says that the commission has the right to appropriate land without a court order. That sends up a bit of a warning flag for me. It seems that issues with this much potential for abuse should be under the scrutiny of the courts, no?

    In any case, thanks for the correction, but your assertion that people on Samizdata are racist is unfounded.

    Owen replies: Joshua – your latest post said “We object to this seizure because we suspect it is racially motivated.” On what basis did you “suspect” that it was racially motivated, knowing nothing whatever either about the general policy of land reform in South Africa, or this particular case of restitution? Your suspicion was nothing but prejudice.

    I have quoted the comments in my post which I consider to be racist. As far as I recall, none of them were from you; so I do not accuse you of racism. But the original blog post, and many of the subsequent comments, did include comments that I consider to be racist. The operators of Samizdata should take action to prevent their blog being used in this way, and other people who comment should make it clear that this sort of language is wholly unacceptable. That, I note, you did not do.

  3. If anyone posted that sort of bile on comments here, I’d delete it. We should have zero tolerance of racism, period. Whoever operates the Samizdata site should be ashamed of themselves.

    Nope, not in the slightest bit ashamed. As it happens, probably 75% of the people I have banned from commenting at Samizdata are so-called ‘race realists’ (the current euphamism for ‘racist’) but I only ban them for endlessly turning *every* discussion into a tedious screed on racial intelligence and other pseudo-science, not for their idiotic views per se. I hardly ever ban people for just expressing idiotic ideas or strange misconceptions, just for being endlessly repetative of them or being *repeatedly* offensive.

    As it happens I do not entirely agree with Johnathan Pearce’s take on what is happening in South Africa either but that *is* how he sees it. Personally I do think land taken under Apartheit (but not before) should indeed be returned to legal owners or their heirs if they can actually be found. But do I think therefore that the article a disgrace? No, I don’t think so and I think you are giving the ANC rather too much benefit of the doubt as to their motives or how this will actually pan out.

    You want to delink us for the way I run things? Well, its your blog.

    Perry: I do not admire your insouciance. Your website is being used as a platform for racists (see the quotations above). Your complicity in this – once it has been brought to your attention – is reprehensible.

    The blogging community is generally pretty good at exposing errors and ignorance. I hope that we will also find ways to expose and shun those who peddle poison.

  4. I support the war in Iraq but I allow comments which oppose it. I support free markets and liberty but I allow comments which advocate socialism. I distain racism but I allow racist comments. I just don’t allow the same dumb things endlessly repeated once the person has put their foot in it.

    You want to just close your ears to admittedly unpleasent views completely? Well that is your privilage on your blog but I beg to differ as and feel no need to appologise of my different approach.

    Owen replies: Perry – that would be convincing if you were allowing people to express those ‘unpleasant views’ so that you and others could confront and challenge them. But that is not what is happening. Instead, your website provides an environment which nurtures them.

  5. Owen,
    Kim’s comment about property belonged to the warlord with the best warriors. This refers to the pre 1600 or so period, pre the arrival of the Dutch. As you will know from Guns Germs and Steel land SW of the Fish River was occupied by Khe San (“Bushmen” in the old parlance) and was largely nomadic or pastoralist. The rest of Southern Africa by a variety of Bantu tribes with the West African derived crops package. A cursory reading of the history of that period, the wars between Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and so on would show that “best warlord” was not an inaccurate description of the process. Certainly, no more racist than suggesting that land holdings in England in 1100 were based on who was the best warlord. As indeed the entire country had just changed hands on that very basis.

    “Farming done in the African manner”? What on earth is racist about this? Comparing peasant subsitence farming with large scale commercial farming in terms of efficiency?

    “Äfrican cultures haven’t adopted the idea of national identity” ? Come along now, you’re a development economist. You know these things. Tribal allegiance is, at least sometimes, stronger than national allegiance. The Ibo/Yoruba divide in Nigeria led to a devastating war only 40 years ago. Kenyan politics is routinely described as being a division of the spoils on a tribal basis. Dharfur is extremely difficult to understand unless one is willing to look at the Arab/Black divide. The 40 year war in Southern Sudan. Expelling the Ugandan Asians. The very existence of a Zulu based party (Inkatha). Mugabe’s near pogrom against the supporters of Johsua Nkomo in the 80s.
    It might perhaps be racist to say that we are better than they, for we have the nation state and they do not, and that this is so for some innate genetic reason (an idea I do not subscribe to in any way)but to note that the nation state is weaker in Africa is hardly so. It’s one of the standards complaints about the place that it was carved up with no regard to population distributions, simply lines drawn on the map, and that this is part and parcel of the current problems.
    “Lack of respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa”. Does this become allowable if we say Zimbabwe? Or Ethiopia, where the Government still owns all the land? Or Botswana where they have jsut changed the constitution to push the last of the Khe San off their land?

    Owen replies: Tim – now you are at it. These are gross and offensive caricatures based on a distorted view of Africa and its people.

    To think of “farming done in the African manner” only as “peasant subsistence” repeats a one-dimensional view of African people, and ignores the huge and highly successful dairy farms of Namibia, the coffee plantations of Ethiopia, the sugar plantations of Mauritius.

    To discuss ethnic, religious, economic and regional groupings in Africa as “tribal allegiance” – a word you would never use about the people of Cornwall or the Basques – is to caricature Africans with a particular western concept. In some countries – for instance, Ghana, there is a very strong allegiance to, and recognition of, the nation state which transcends almost all other loyalties. In other countries – for instance, South Africa – there is a stronger role for the politics of sub-national groupings – rather as the UK has the Scots, Irish, Welsh and English – and plenty of sub-groups within them too.

    Yes, you can note that the Government of Zimbabwe has a failed policy on land and property rights. But Ethiopia’s position that all land is owned by the community is hardly any different than French law. I don’t hear you going around saying that “Europeans” or “White folk” have no respect for property rights.

    And as for respect for the law: well it wasn’t an African nation that invaded Iraq in contravention of the UN Charter and international law, was it? And at the level of street crimes or theft, most African communities that I know, and in which I have lived, have a much stronger respect for the law than I see in many towns and cities in northern Europe and America.

  6. Your claim we are ‘nurturing’ racism is just preposterous. If so then the BBC and VoA must be doing the same. Your accusations are not unlike the howls of ‘anti-semitism’ leveled at anything critical of Israel. Distain for African political culture and a lack of faith in the motives of politicians is not racist, it is rational and evidence based.

    For example you hold up the comment “given the near-total lack of respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa” as racist. Yet whilst perhaps over-generalised, that is a reasonable point to make. Perhaps you need to read the Index of Economic Freedom http://www.heritage.org/research/features/index/ and examine the entries for sub-Saharan Africa and see what it has to say on the security of property rights on a per country basis. Respect for property rights and the rule of law in Africa is he exception rather than the rule. Or are Heritage just a bunch of racists nurturers too?

  7. In response to your question as to how it is that we “suspect” that seizure was racially motivated, you need only take a look at the BBC report to see where anyone would get that impression.

    I trust that other comments posted here have dispelled the notion that criticizing African political culture is in and of itself racist.

    Owen replies: I agree that the orginal article by the BBC (which seems to have been based on an Associated Press report) was shocking misreporting by the mainsream media. Generally at Samizdata people are pretty sceptical about the utterances of the established press, especially the BBC; but when it suits your prejudices, you are all happy to repeat what they say uncritically without bothering with even a token check of the facts.

    To criticize particular policies for particular policies (and do so accurately) is not racist. To make sweeping generalisations about what you think Africans do and do not do is racist.

  8. Some of those comments on Samizdata are racist but others are right to doubt South Africa’s ability to redistribute land in an efficient way. Two things stand out to me:
    1)Mbeki is never critical of Mugabe and often appears as if he shares his ideology over land redistribution.
    2)Over 1700 white farmers have been butchered in SA since 1994, which suggests that redistribution will be a very fiery affair – can that government handle it properly?

    Owen replies: The ANC has “handled” the peaceful transfer power after the brutality of apartheid, prevening violence and sustaining a broad national consenss. I think they can manage a program of land redistribution, yes.

  9. Perry

    Your argument is vaccilating. At first I thought you were accepting that the discussion on your website is racist, but were willing to host such a discussion in the interests of not closing your ears. Now it seems you are saying that those remarks are not racist at all.

    Which is it? Do you accept that at least some of the remarks that I have quoted above are racist?

    Owen

  10. I hope you’re right Owen. Maybe it’s because I had to leave Zimbabwe in 2001 that I am sceptical.

    Good luck South Africa. Leave your property laws alone.

    Owen replies: I hope I’m right too – not for my sake, but for all the people of South Africa and beyond. I am sorry to hear you had to leave Zimbabwe. For what it is worth, I think Mugabe is a monster.

  11. In response to your last comment – I suppose you’re right that we accepted the story at face value because it fits our general view of African politics – but that’s still a long way from saying that we’re racist.

    I will admit to having a pretty dim view of politics in Africa because most of the reports that I read are not encouraging, to put it mildly. However, I’m no expert on the subject and will admit that I could do with a brushing up on politics on the continent.

    Nevertheless, I feel the need to stress that racism has nothing to do with my view of Africa. To put it in context, I regularly complain about politics in Canada, Germany, France, the UK, and the United States as well. That does not make me anti-Canadian, anti-German, anti-French, anti-British, or anti-American. I think what you’re doing is rather closer to racism than what we’re doing. Namely, you’ve noticed that the actors involved are black and just sort of assumed that we’re being overly critical of them for that reason. IN fact, I have, on occasion, been wrong about events in, oh, say, Canada – but if I got the national health cost figures wrong for Toronto and suggested that Ontario’s healthcare policy was a disaster, you would hardly accuse me of being anti-Canadian. More likely, you would just say I was uninformed.

    Sometimes criticism of a bad policy is just criticism of a bad policy. And yes, sometimes we do (we all do – you too, no doubt) let our prejudices of situations color our judgements. If you told me falsely, for example, in 1980 that the Soviet Union had decided that parents of all children with a toy train would have to work an extra 5 hours a month to even things out, I might just be gullible enough to believe you without checking too much because that would fit in with the general pattern of Soviet behavior. The current government in South Africa is way too friendly with Mugabe for pretty much anyone’s taste. I doubt you would disagree that the Mugabe government in general is as racist as it is incompetent, and that we would all have a better view of South Africa’s rulers if they would condemn him publicly in unambiguous terms, as they well should have done some time ago. My willingness to believe that the South African government could start someday adopting some of his policies is based on prejudices I have against people who like Mugabe (or at least, prejudices against people who are silent about him). It has nothing to do with the color of any South African politician’s skin.

    Everyone here has been pretty civil to you considering the seriousness of the charge you are hurling at us, not to mention the scarcity of evidence on which you base it. I think it’s about time you recanted.

  12. “as “tribal allegiance” – a word you would never use about the people of Cornwall or the Basques”

    Yes I most certainly would. And do. That is why it’s not racism. Individual, family, kin group (or clan), tribe, nation. We all of us place varying levels of importance to those different groupings. In some parts of the world loyalty to the latter over rides loyalty to the penultimate. In others it doesn’t. There is nothing better or worse about this, it’s just an observation about the world. Walloon, Flemish or Belgian? I’d regard the two former as tribes and the latter as a nation and I’m not certain that the nation claims the greater allegiance.

    Just to reiterate I don’t use tribe or tribal to mean some caricature of people dancing round a fire boiling missionaries. In anthropology it’s an oft used word to describe a particular form of allegiance and loyalty and it applies to everyone, whatever the melanin content of the skin. It’s just that some societies (cultures if you wish) put the nation state as a higher or more important form of allegiance and loyalty. Something which, at first glance, would appear to be necessary for the efficient functioning of a nation state.

    Ghana may have this. Kenya may not (remember all the arguments under Arap Moi about the Kikuyu having all the power?)

    But to argue that one cannot even discuss the subject without being accused of racism seems a touch harsh.

    Oh, and about the French. Yes, I do hold fairly sulphurous views on them and most especially on the inheritance conditions of the Code Napoleon. And I do shout about them.

  13. I just want to make it clear that the preceding Comments by ‘Brian’ are not from this Brian — the other Barder. I have never been forced to leave Zimbabwe, although I suppose I can imagine circumstances in which I would be.

    On the substance of the discussion, and having lived and worked for several years in different parts of Africa and having been involved in African affairs for even longer, I entirely agree that the widely accepted stereotypes purporting to describe what happens in Africa are mostly grossly misleading and to some degree informed by or productive of racism. On the other hand, as you (Owen) would be the first to agree, there are terrible things going on in parts of Africa, probably no worse in many ways than what happens in other continents, but terrible nonetheless, and urgently requiring remedial help from us and from other richer communities elsewhere in the world, as your own professional and personal commitments amply confirm. It’s obviously important that informed accounts of Africa’s problems should not be inhibited, as I fear they sometimes are, by fear of the accusation of racism. I don’t, though, think you would disagree with that, and I agree entirely that sweeping generalisations based on little more than prejudice ought not to be protected by reluctance to misuse allegations of racism, or indeed to be tolerated at all.

    Brian (Barder!)

  14. Owen, as I wrote the original article that seems to have gotten up your nose, let me make a few points. First off, my worry about what is going on in South Africa in this case is that it has overtures of the Zimbabwe episode, which has led to kicking farmers off their land and transfer to Mugabe’s buddies. My fear is that exactly the same process could be encouraged in South Africa.

    My article made it clear that I have no problem in principle with just restitution to people where a clear wrong has been committed.

    There was no racist intent in my article and you are out of order for suggesting as such. Are you suggesting that we cannot discuss such issues at all? No wonder so many parts of Africa are in a mess.

    I stand by every word of my post. Have a nice evening.

    Owen replies: Jonathan: I am sorry that you don’t feel a teensy-weensy tinge of regret for writing an article which turned out to be an inaccurate slur. I note that you are afraid that the South African government will make the same mistakes as Robert Mugabe. But just because they all look the same to you, doesn’t mean they are.

    As you’ll see if you can be bothered to look at other discussions here, I absolutely am interested in a well-informed discussion about the challenges that Africans face. I have no problem at all with talking clearly and frankly about the mistakes that specific African governments have made. I devote a considerable amount of my time and energy to trying to figure out what we can do to alleviate those problems. What I have a problem with is grotesque generalisations about Africa as a whole of the sort that you, and your buddies at Samizdata, throw around.

  15. Johnathan – Owen’s gone into some detail about the story you purported to be commenting on, and made it clear that

    – the Visser story has nothing to do with a drive to “redistribute” land
    the people who will get chunks of this land
    are in this and any similar case highly likely to have verifiable connections with
    the people who were allegedly robbed of said land in the first place
    (Incidentally, “allegedly”? Are you suggesting that minority rule in South Africa didn’t involve land theft on a massive scale? Please clarify.)
    – and that there is no assault on white-owned farmland whose spoils will go to the political hacks and cronies of the governing regime.

    In short, what your article portrayed is simply not what is going on in South Africa at the moment, and it’s either ignorant or dishonest to suggest otherwise. Since you don’t now have the excuse of ignorance, I’m curious to read that you still stand by every word. Are you sure about that?

  16. “And as for respect for the law: well it wasn’t an African nation that invaded Iraq in contravention of the UN Charter and international law, was it?”

    Is that really the best you can do?

    Would you consider it legitimate to defend the Iraq invasion by pointing at a lack of respect for law in African countries? No? Then knock it off.

    And it’s simply factually incorrect to state that the Iraq invasion was contrary to international law. Because no court has found it to be so. The best you can say is that it is your opinion that a court would find it to be illegal. Fine. Other international lawyers would differ.

    Owen replies: Fair point. I was responding – somewhat flippantly and angrily – to the idea that Africans are in some sense more lawless than people from elsewhere in the world. I agree that Iraq is a red herring.

  17. Here is the comment I posted on the thread at Samizdata:

    Hi. I don’t want to be accused of trolling, and I’ve already had my (fairly long) say over at my blog, so apologies if this is one post too many from me. However, Aidan did say that “we’ve yet to hear from Owen”.

    On the substance, it is pretty clear that the BBC article on which Jonathan’s post was based was comprehensively misleading. Compulsory purchase in South Africa is limited to restitution claims, of which there are about 5-7,000 outstanding, and the SA Government has recently reiterated that it has no intention of allowing any more claims to be lodged. The redistribution policy to which many commenters here refer is a separate policy, and there is no power to expropriate.

    The BBC, and subsequently Jonathan, have confused their description of what it going on, and so misled this discussion (for example, one commenter here noted that there appeared to be no specific claim on the farm that was being bought, when of course there is, from the descendants of the family who owned that land.) Given how misleading it was, it seems extraordinary to me that Jonathan says (in the comments on my blog) that he “stands by every word” of his post. (I would have understood if he had simply apologised and said that he had been misled by the mainstream media.)

    Aidan: in respect of your last post, what the SA Government is doing is neither brutalizing anyone, nor depriving them of justice. There have been acts of violence against white farmers, which I deplore. The land restitution process is carried out with full and fair legal process. Rapid, fair and just settlement of the outstanding land restitution claims buttressed by effective willing-seller land redistribution will, I hope, reduce the sense of grievance: let us hope that it brings and end to the completely unjustified violence against white landowners.

    More controversially, I continue to find the discussion here racist. My reason for saying this is that I consider that there are a set of shared attitudes that have been articulated through the discussion, some of them unconsciously, which are based on a set of assumptions about black people:

    – the assumption that black people will be less effective farmers than white people; (for example, the claim that allowing black people to farm will “propel South Africa back to the stone age”)

    – the assumption that land restitution – restoring property rights to those people who had them taken away by the Native Land Act of 1913 and subseqent apartheid laws – is an exercise of racial power rather than simple justice;

    – the assumption that Mbeki is “like” Mugabe (who is a monster); and that the South African legal system is as corrupt as Zimbabwe’s has, sadly, become;

    – the gross caricaturing of black people with phrases such as “hunter gatherers”, “pygmies”, “war lords”, “to the victors the spoils”, “lack of respect for rule of law”, “begging bowls” etc … nothing but a list of derogatory images which reinforce stereotypes.

    It is striking to me that not one of you has had a good word to say in this conversation about any black African. For example, there has been no recognition of the remarkable dignity with which a peaceful transition to majority rule has been accomplished in South Africa, with no attempts to wreak revenge on those who voted, election after election, for a brutal racist government.

    You may all think I am just being politically correct. I did not come here looking for racism, but I was genuinely appalled by the attitudes I found here. I hope some of you, at least, will reflect on whether the views you are forming and expressing are, at least in part, based on a set of assumptions that you consciously or unconsciously hold about people based on their race.

    And with that, I shall withdraw gracefully. I’ll be over at http://www.owen.org/blog if anybody wants to discuss this further with me.

  18. There have been acts of violence against white farmers, which I deplore.

    For example, there has been no recognition of the remarkable dignity with which a peaceful transition to majority rule has been accomplished in South Africa, with no attempts to wreak revenge on those who voted, election after election, for a brutal racist government.

    Go figure, eh? Or maybe the ANC is the new brutal racist government which allows violence against whites to go unpunished?

    Owen replies: Brian – Sadly, there are acts of violence in many countries every day. South Africa has a very high homicide rate. The failure to control violent crime is a failure of South African government policy, no question about it, and it benefits nobody to pretend otherwise. (The reasons why the homicide rate is so high are, however, not entirely the fault of the government.)

    Sadly, white South African farmers are victims of this very high crime level (I don’t actually know if they are disproportionately affected: do you? My guess is that they face more violent crime than other rural communities and less than urban communities, but that is only speculation.) The Government should be doing more to reduce crime, and should be more effective, and this includes bringing to justice those who attack white farmers.

    But that is quite a different thing from saying that the attacks on white farmers are acts of a brutal racist government, which they are not.

  19. What I have a problem with is grotesque generalisations about Africa as a whole of the sort that you, and your buddies at Samizdata, throw around

    It seems to me that these may be “generalizations” about land reform, not about Africa.

    When and where has land redistribution worked?

    Owen replies: West Bengal 1977-1994. South Korea and Japan both benefited hugely from land reform (imposed by the US). Other examples over the years are France, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan, Ireland …

  20. Student’s with badges saying Hang Mandela eh! Next you’ll be telling me that someone wants to hang Bush.

    I think some of the comments may well have been motivated by racism but they differ little from the extremist left comments at harry’s place.
    And lord knows what you thought of John B’s last post.

  21. Interesting. But while it may answer my general question, not sure if Bengal (or any of the other countries mentioned) offers the right parallel.

    The study indicates that dense population, absentee landlords and a unified, strong left party seemed to make the project fly in W. Bengal. Redistribution without violence (absentee landlordism?) and the political will to stick with the program over time (same party in power for 26 years) has helped. (And yet, without drawing conclusions, the paper notes several recent discouraging trends, (pages 17 and 18).)

    Those conclusions aside – honest question – where do the factors of absentee farming and population density fit in re: SA land reform?

    I’m interested in your other examples, but I’m more curious about the history of land reform in Africa. Or, more accurately, maybe the history of nationalization and attempts by the state to take control of private enterprises in order to solve complex economic issues. The example of Zimbabwe may be a bad one too. Mbeki is not Mugabe, but he is also (my understanding) convinced that the state has the right and ability to step in and “make things right”. I’m dubious.

    This is not a jab at Africans, just an honest question.

    Owen replies: Paul – I don’t think I am the best person to answer detailed questions about successes and failures in land reform. I know enough to know that some land reform around the world has succeeded, and some has failed. There are few – if any – examples of successful land reform in Africa; but that does not mean that it could not succeed in particular African countries if it were well designed and implemented. I don’t think it is sensible to make generalisations about whether land reform could or could not succeed in Africa.

    I don’t agree with you that the comments at Samizdata were directed at scepticism about land reform. I can see no discussion there of the conditions in which land reform would and would not succeed. Some were aghast at the thought of Mugabe-style expropriation spreading south to South Africa (about which they would be right be concerned, if it were happening), and they were all too willing to assume that this was the path down which South Africa was moving, even though a few minutes of fact checking would have showed this to be false. And as I have argued there and here, many of the comments are purely parading prejudices about the supposed characteristics of Africans.

    It is all a bit strange, really, because some of us who believe in land reform do so in part because we believe in private property. I support South African land reform because I believe that property was wrongly removed from its rightful owners and that it should be restored in the interests of protecting property rights; and because I believe that if people own assets they will be more likely to invest and be able to increase their own prosperity. All the kind of sentiments that you would expect people at Samizdata to share. But apparently for some people, the prejudice of racism runs deeper than commitment to property and markets.

  22. My guess is that it is less the racism you suspect, and more of a concern about the results of the only comparable land reform in southern Africa – Mugabe’s in Zimbabwe. Remember, this also started reasonably, with British (and even Ian Smith’s) optimistic participation. I think that the eventual results there, along with the violence towards white African farmers, raise legitimate concerns. I see a balance between these short-term issues and the longer term legacy of apartheid and white supremacy when it comes to the issue of racism. Basically, the “racists” in question no longer have any real leverage or power, so the minority whites, who should have much to offer (as Mandela understood) need to be included in the process.

    That is where we (and the bloggers at Samizdata) can “agree to disagree”. (The commenters, whom the bloggers there probably do not speak for, are a different matter, and may be outside of the discussion). Nevertheless, the subject cannot be framed as an issue of race by either side in my view, but of class. SA has an elite black class that would, in some cases side against land reform, does this make them “racists”?

    My concern about your response is that you are well equipped to answer concerns about the process and potential of land reform as an issue, but are too sensitive to any opposition as “racist”. This may have the effect of driving moderates on the issue to the right.

    Owen replies: Paul – not so. I would have no problem discussing with reasonable people the question of whether and how land reform should be carried out. I would come with a set of presumptions about the value in a society of protecting and promoting private property as the basis for a free market society, and there is room for a serious debate about how best to achieve that. For example, I think it is very difficult to know whether the right start date for South Africa’s land restitution program was the 1913 Natives’ Land Act. I also think there are important questions that could and should be asked about the mixture of instruments in the land redistribution programme – in particular, there may be a case for a more substantial investment in supporting landowners to help them to raise productivity on the farms. People can disagree on these points without being racist.

    But that is not the discussion that was happening on Samizdata. I am not saying that libertarians are racist; but I do think that racists are drawn to libertarian communities. I’ve banged on ad nauseam about why I think that discussion there is racist so I am not going to say it all again. The bloggers may not be the most salient examples of that racism, but they have a duty to challenge it when it appears, as it did in that thread. Far from challenging it, they fed it by posting a scare story which appealed to all their prejudices, and then stood back as Samizdata crowd proceeded to make a number of derogatory generalisations about black people and Africans. That is no basis for an intelligent discussion.

  23. Oh well, I guess it is just difficult to separate the issues.

    But if you were to snap your fingers and race was not part of the equation, you would still have the equation.

  24. Owen, you seem to be bashing me for relying on a BBC report that you claim to be flat wrong. This has to be a first for me: getting into trouble for assuming the BBC was being accurate.

    If the issue is just about resistution to a legally-credible claim, then there is no issue, and hence I would retract some of my original concerns. Only some, mind. One has to look at the quote at the bottom of the story – which I assume was not made up – in which the Zimbabwe land-grabs were cited as a model to be emulated. That is why I raised the Zimbabwe example, surely a serious one.

    For what it is worth, I have also written and condemned land grabs in places like the USA where small property owners get their property seized in the name of “eminent domain”, and has nothing to do with race whatever.

  25. Ireland? Successful land reform? Rather depends on which episode of it you mean.

    Do you mean the one where Catholics had to divide land equally amongst their children (similar to the Napoleonic Code ideas I said I didn’t like above) while Protestants were allowed to continue with primogeniture?

    That policy that led inevitably to the monoculture of the potato and thus the famine? (let’s leave aside the responses to it for a moment).

    Or are you meaning something that happened after 1921…something I admit I know very little about.

    Owen replies: In the case of Ireland, I mean from about 1850 to about 1925. You know, Irish Land League, Charles Boycott, Wyndham Act, etc

  26. The discussion of what is and is not racism is largely sterile, and I regret having sidetracked the substantive discussion down this path, when the really interesting questions are about South Africa’s land reform program. But I do want to tie up this loose end.

    My view is that it is racist to make disparaging judgements about people based on generalisations about their ethnic group. Over at Samizdata, many of the commenters were doing just that. In particular, some argued that transferring land to black ownership would make South Africa poorer, in part because they believe that black people are less good farmers than whites. I regard that as an open and shut piece of racism, and I am disinclined to further the discussion.

    However, the response from Perry de Havilland, who appears to be the owner of the Samizdata site, is so preposterous that I cannot allow it to pass without comment.

    I am paraphrasing slightly, but you can see his comment for yourself and I hope he will correct me if I am wrong. He seems to say two things:

    a. he appears to define racism to apply only if a distinction is explicitly based on skin colour; so (if I understand him correctly) it is racist to say that black South Africans are less good at farming than white South Africans, but not racist to say that Zulus are less good at farming than Afrikaaners;

    b. He reckons that it is not racist to make judgements about people based on their generalisations about their “culture”: on this view, it is OK to say that black people in South Africa are “culturally” unable to “coax riches from the land”.

    Frankly, this kind of stupidity and prejudice would not pass muster in a high school debating society and it is troubling – though perhaps not surprising – that it is has been allowed to pass unchallenged at Samizdata. (Update: it has not only been unchallenged, it has been praised there.)

    The problem here is not to do with making generalisations about groups of people (eg the Khoisan used to be nomadic hunters, or the Tsonga have a tradition of fishing). The problem is with making judgements about people based on those generalisations. So it is racist to say that if you give arable land to to a Khoisan, he or she will be less able to farm it than an Afrikaaner.

    Joshua quotes an example that the Canadian logging industry is said to be better managed than the US industry. Let’s leave aside the question of whether this is true or not. For the sake of the example, let’s ignore the fact that the people of the US and Canada are largely of the same race so any prejudice, while being objectionable, couldn’t correctly be described as racism. But in Joshua’s example, I do not think it is racist to say that the Canadian industry is more efficient than the US industry. It would however be racist [if they were of largely different races] to say that “Americans can’t grow trees”, or to say that if Walmart bought a timber forest in Canada they would lose money because “Americans are no good at logging”.

    John East complains that I do not address him directly, so I’ll rectify that right away. John: I think your comments in this discussion are racist. You say that racism is hating people based on their race. I don’t agree – I think that judging people negatively based on generalisations about their race is racism. You say that the effect of transferring land to black South Africans will “will propel South Africa back into the stone age”. You explain this remark by saying that the current owners are “competent, experienced, modern” whereas the new owners are “not necessarily trained or experienced modern farmers”. This is arrant nonsense. Farms were not handed out to white South Africans on merit. Some farmers have inherited farms, some of which were farms that were stolen under apartheid, and some have bought them with money acquired elsewhere. To allege, as you do, that black South Africans will return to “subsistence farming” because that was common in South Africa “prior to the appearance of Europeans” is to engage in a grotesque generalisation based on race. You are claiming that, once they have the opportunity, the people to whom the farms are being transferred (who are black South Africans) will engage in subsistence farming (your basis for saying this is that black South Africans did this in the fifteenth century) while the people from whom the farms are being bought (who are white South Africans) would instead engage in “modern” farming. So you have judged that the black South Africans will be worse farmers than the white South Africans, even though they would be otherwise operating in the same agricultural marketplace, because you have a cartoon caricature prejudice about the respective approaches of those two groups of people to farming in the 21st century. You have made a derogatory judgement about these people based on their race. And that is why I think your comments are racist.

    Finally, Joshua raised the question of the change in the law that allows the authorities to make a compulsory purchase without a court order. Personally I do find that change in the law disquieting, and it would not be an approach I would instinctively advocate, though I understand why the government is keen to settle the restitution process sooner rather than later. I think it would be valuable to have well-informed discussion about that trade-off. But Samizdata is clearly not the environment to have it.

  27. Pingback: Tim Worstall
  28. Owen,

    Firstly, I think that you are being a little over-sensitive re: the racism issue, but then I am notoriously blase about such things. Personally, I think that Africa can do what the hell it likes, as long as it stops consuming my cash. And, I agree with Tim about the loyalties between tribes and states issue, although I was surprised that he missed the classic Rwanda massacre example.

    I do have one question – and it’s just for information, don’t jump on me here – about this ownership. How are the black families proving ownership? Do they have title deeds, or what? And, will we be seeing redistribution to Boer families kicked off the land before 1925? Do they have any claim?

    To think of “farming done in the African manner” only as “peasant subsistence” repeats a one-dimensional view of African people, and ignores the huge and highly successful dairy farms of Namibia, the coffee plantations of Ethiopia, the sugar plantations of Mauritius.

    OK, were these plantations set up by Africans, or by Imperial invaders? Again, simply a question? And would you deny that – in general – subsistance farming is the norm? Given the repeated famines in (especially sub-Saharan) Africa, an immensely fertile continent, would you say that African farming was a success story?

    Personally, I think that the concept of land distribution is more than a little dodgy; how far back would you go? Furthermore, as pertains to Africa, any example that you can give of successful redistribution, I’m pretty sure that I could cite one that has failed. You say West Bengal, I say Zimbabwe (the only way in which that benighted country is relevant here).

    Now, you can probably accuse me of being a racist but, as has been pointed out in a comment at The Kitchen, I know little about Africa and I’d appreciate your answers (I know that they’ll be in your usual well-measured tone!).

    DK

    Owen replies: The reasons why farms in poor countries all round the world are not as efficient as farms in rich countries all round the world is because of low capital and insufficient irrigation, not because of the colour of the farmer.

  29. Owen,

    Firstly, I think that you are being a little over-sensitive re: the racism issue, but then I am notoriously blase about such things. Personally, I think that Africa can do what the hell it likes, as long as it stops consuming my cash. And, I agree with Tim about the loyalties between tribes and states issue, although I was surprised that he missed the classic Rwanda massacre example.

    I do have one question – and it’s just for information, don’t jump on me here – about this ownership. How are the black families proving ownership? Do they have title deeds, or what? And, will we be seeing redistribution to Boer families kicked off the land before 1925? Do they have any claim?

    To think of “farming done in the African manner” only as “peasant subsistence” repeats a one-dimensional view of African people, and ignores the huge and highly successful dairy farms of Namibia, the coffee plantations of Ethiopia, the sugar plantations of Mauritius.

    OK, were these plantations set up by Africans, or by Imperial invaders? Again, simply a question? And would you deny that – in general – subsistance farming is the norm? Given the repeated famines in (especially sub-Saharan) Africa, an immensely fertile continent, would you say that African farming was a success story?

    Personally, I think that the concept of land distribution is more than a little dodgy; how far back would you go? Furthermore, as pertains to Africa, any example that you can give of successful redistribution, I’m pretty sure that I could cite one that has failed. You say West Bengal, I say Zimbabwe (the only way in which that benighted country is relevant here).

    Now, you can probably accuse me of being a racist but, as has been pointed out in a comment at The Kitchen, I know little about Africa and I’d appreciate your answers (I know that they’ll be in your usual well-measured tone!).

    DK

    Owen replies: The reasons why farms in poor countries all round the world are not as efficient as farms in rich countries all round the world is because of low capital and insufficient irrigation, not because of the colour of the farmer.

  30. Recently I did a bit wherein I wrote “I wouldn’t visit South Africa on a bet.” See it HERE.

    The context was commentary on the forced sale of white farm land to the S. African government for redistribution to blacks. There is a dispute in this case – not about willingness to sell, but about price. The white farmer wants more than the gov’t is offering.

    So far, so good.

    My comment was critical of a gov’t official who wants a policy with a “little more oomph” behind it, such as that practiced in Zimbabwe – and that is what I was criticized.

    Since when is criticism of government officials who appear to be advocating seizure without compensation “racist”?

    According to Owen (HERE), it would appear so.

    I do a fairish amount of calling politicians “idiots” when I think they have it coming – and for Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka to advocate using “Zimbabwe’s skills” is idiocy and moon-battery.

    I repeat, since when is calling bullshit on a politician’s public idiocy “racist”?

    (The above posted simultaneously at Swamp Gas and Owen’s Musings)

    Owen replies: I didn’t call your post racist. I’m sorry if you got that impression. I called the Samizdata discussion racist – for the reasons set out above.

  31. I’m going to take the risk of being called a racist here, but if I may I’d like to add some observations I’ve made after 15 years of living in SA concerning land reform in the region (Zim and SA in particular).

    Let me start by saying that in principle I have no problem with the idea with land being owned by Africans. My problem with the concept as it was designed in Zimbabwe and appears to be designed in South Africa is that it is based on a romantic notion that makes little or no concession to the facts of modern society. Southern Africa has large urban populations that need to be fed from the countryside. This needs some sort of large scale commercial farming. The region is also dependant on export earnings from agriculture. Organisations like Tescos do not waste their time negotiating with hundreds of small farmers, they deal on a commercial level.

    The original Zimbabwe plan was to purchase the large, white owned commercial farms on a willing buyer, willing seller basis. The land was then to be divided into small plots to be given to landless black peasants. In the early days this did happen although not at the rate the government wanted. The big problem was that the resettled peasants raidly became subsistence farmers. Partly this was because they had not been given much in the way of training in commercial farming but the biggest problem was scale. The small farmers had no access to often distant markets and no access to capital. These problems could have been ironed out over time unfortunately before that could happen the Zimbabwe program descended into the chaos we see today. The chaos was caused by politicians acting for short term political motives.

    In South Africa the program appears to be very similar in concept, buy the big farms, split them up and give the plots to black families. The mechanism for this is the Land Claims Court. This institution is methodical (slow) which is probably fueling some of the more extreme pontifications we hear from the politicians. The court is, however, reasonably fair and tries to listen to all parties. In a recent case concerning land not far from where I live the first application made by a community was rejected. They had toured the area they beleived was their ancestoral home and “cherry picked” the nicest/richest farms for their claim. Ironically they included property owned by the premier of the Limpopo Province. Quite rightly the court instructed them to reassess the claim.

    The case proceeded based on a more realistic claim (still including the premier’s land) and succeeded. The final resolution is still pending as for the government to purchase the farms concerned at market rates would blow the entire land reform budget. Aside from the money problem the farms in question also produce for export. As with any emerging economy foreign currency is vital and so the state is in a quandary. It has built up an expectation within the black community that historical land disputes will be resolved. However, the original plan will destroy export revenue earning potential and also reduce the productive capacity of the land in the same way the original Zim plan did. Extrapolated to the national scale this could be disasterous.

    So what are the solutions to the problem? In Zim I don’t see much hope until there is a change of regime (a view held by various black Zim colleagues). In SA? Firstly the government must accept that its budget must be bigger. The cosntitution has a specific clause protecting property rights and this must be upheld if the country’s reputation is to remain. Secondly it must discard the romantic vision of a nation of happy peasant farmers. This makes for good soundbites at political rallies, but makes no sense in reality. If South Africa is to continue to develop the only way to feed the growing urban population and continue to earn export dollars is to have viable commercial sized farms.

    I can see only two practical solutions:

    The first is lease back. The government purchases the land and places it in trust for the community. The farms are then leased as commercial entities on long term leases (99 years or so). The lease income would go to the community who owned the land. This would keep the farms at their productive levels and provide income for the communities. Another advantage is that since lease costs are a working cost and not capital it would become easier for black farmers to enter the commercial sector.

    The other posible solution is for the community to form some sort of co-operative venture whereby they farm their plots to some sort of agreed, group plan. This concept is more problematic as getting unified agreement from any large group is not easy. There is also the problem that at present many of the claimants have little or no understanding of commercial farming. They would need some sort of external advice and since this would most likely be from government “experts” I forsee problems. Finally I wonder whether banks would be willing to risk loans to such co-operative bodies.

    Well, there’s my tu’penny worth. Any comments?

    The Remittance Man

  32. RM

    (Relax: there is nothing in here that seems remotely racist to me!)

    I think the question is whether you are right to make the assumption that the farmers to whom the land is being transferred will be unable to achieve high levels of productivity.

    I tend to believe that if the owners are not successful in farming, they will sell their assets to someone who can make more money from them (ie do a better job).

    The success of land reform policies – documented in this study – suggests that the gains from increasing the ownership of property and assets are potentially very significant.

    The Land Reform program in South Africa has the potential to reinforce, rather than undermine, confidence in the system of property rights, by restoring to its rightful owners the land that was stolen under apartheid. It also has the potential to undermine confidence in property rights, if the process is not applied justly and carefully.

    Owen

  33. I own a farm in South Africa bought it a few years ago, its more of a nature reserve than a farm as we do not grow any crops, The Government has sent its representatives around looking for evidence of graves and settlements so that the claiment can justify his/her claim in Court. Some of my neigbors have been on the land since 1928, they didn’t inherit they bought it and have developed their farms into viable businesses.
    So far in our area the Government have on some occasions bought on a willing buyer willing seller bases (about 4000 Hectare), of all the land/businesses that has been re distributed and taken over by the new owners (note the land is Government land the deeds are with the Government and as of yet not distributed) all have failed the properties have been vandalized crops abandoned etc. The only ones still operating are where the local community (new land owners) have made long term arrangements with the previous owners.
    The root of the problem is lack of money from the Government, (though I cannot blame them too much as the ones that have been given funds have squandered it on other things)
    Yes I do know what I am talking about as I spent two years (no charge) working with the local community trying to arranging funding for various projects, we did get a lot of lip service but no real interest, big business were only interested if they could have a 99 year unconditional leases, the government are not keen on this as the purpose was to create new land owners who would utilize the land and create work for their communities. Some of the deals done are now being undone sponsored by the SA Government through the SA courts
    The two years was a great eye opener racism and curruption are alive and well and living in SA, As a white South African I was subject to it on more than one occasion, mainly from Government Officials, I also met some very genuine black people who were trying to do their best for their communities. Who knows where its going to end, I for one will fight any claim on my land in the courts of SA.

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