District Land Reform Committee pilot capacity building project completed

At the end of August, the HSRC’s Economic Performance and Development research programme (EPD) completed a ten-month research and capacity building intervention for selected District Land Reform Committees in 10 districts across South Africa. Supported by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and the Belgian Technical Cooperation the project aimed at increasing the capacity of DLRCs to identify the land needs and use of the poorer segments of local land seekers in their districts. Land reform in the agricultural sector remains high on the political agenda and is considered an essential economic contribution to rural development and food security at household and national level.  The specific focus of the project was to increase the capacity for DLRCs to conduct basic research on land use and needs, invoking a participatory framework in conjunction with specific interest groups and communities at large. Strategies to reach out to these sections of the local community were piloted.

Flowing from recommendations of the National Planning Commission and for the purposes of the National Development Plan, DLRCs were set up in all 44 districts by mid-2016. They are intended to be multi-stakeholder platforms representative of various local constituents in each district. Their purpose is to facilitate and fast-track the agricultural land redistribution process to ensure that at least 20% of land is redistributed in each district by 2030. The main finding of the study was that despite more than a year of existence some DLRCs in the study were not functioning as expected and at least three were not functioning at all. 

Overseen by Professor Leslie Bank of EPD, the various applied research partners included the HSRC’s Human and Social Development research programme, the University of Fort Hare and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. A number of postgraduate students were included in the research activities in order to develop their experience with respect to applied research, under the auspices of senior colleagues at the HSRC and the partner universities. Collaborating with various university partners and developing the capacity of their interns and other postgraduate students is a strong trend within EPD and a means to establish a qualified and practically experienced cohort of postgraduates to enter the knowledge economy.

The intervention was located in 10 districts across Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. Given the diversity of land available for agricultural redistribution (size, type, contemporary usage, pricing, etc.) and the needs of residents in the districts in these 10 districts the findings of the study were diverse across the individual districts. For example, we found that in some districts DLRCs were involved in redistributing large tracts of farmland to a small number of recipients, while in other areas they were struggling to redistribute any land at all. The latter appeared to be based on the dysfunctionality of some of the DLRCs. For example, those in the Overberg and Cape Winelands District were not functioning at all and the DLRC in Amathole crumpled during the study period. The redistribution of large tracts of land to a few selected beneficiaries was largely due to the continued unwillingness to subdivide large farmland and the desire to transfer as many hectares as possible and as quickly as possible, irrespective of the socioeconomic class of those benefitting, with the result that mainly small groups of elite applicants received large tracts of land.

While most DLRCs were interested in the research and capacity building project, few actually participated in the activities. Some felt that as volunteers they were already too busy dealing with existing applications for large scale commercial farmland and thus could not get involved in more work for which they did not have the resources. Others were concerned that reaching out to a broader group of land seekers may raise expectations that government could not satisfy and this would put the DLRCs in an awkward position. Many of the DLRCs were underrepresented and consequently under skilled, as they did not liaise with other important stakeholders in local municipalities, state departments or the commercial farming sector. In a few cases the DLRC was so frustrated with the slow procedures of government departments they were attempting to move forward separately from their government partners, raising questions about adherence to their mandate and overall accountability.

The Provincial arm of the DRDLR serves as the secretariat of the DLRCs and the committees are chaired by a local representative. Interestingly both the secretariat and the management feel frustrated with the process indicating that the DRDLR needs to urgently step in and revisit functioning of the DLRCs regarding their mandate in terms of roles and responsibilities. This needs to be done on a regional basis and involve not only the DLRCs but also key state departments at different levels (provincial, district and local). While the HSRC study only covered 10 districts, subsequent to a scanning exercise, there is a need to examine the functionality of the remaining 34 DLRCs.

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