Rhoda Metcalfe reports from Cape Town on South Africa's struggle with land redistribution. Some formerly white-owned farms have now collapsed under black ownership.
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LISA MULLINS: The African National Congress has governed South Africa for 15 years now. It is the party of Nelson Mandela, the party that moved South Africa from apartheid to democracy. But the ANC has also failed to keep some of its promises. One of its most powerful pledges has been land reform. The party vowed to redistribute farm land from whites to blacks. That has been happening, but many of the farms that have been transferred are collapsing. And that's not helping anyone, as we hear in this report from Rhoda Metcalfe.
RHODA METCALFE: Theo De Jager points to a bright cluster of flowers that he brought over from his old farm in Limpopo Province and planted here on his new land.
THEO DE JAGER: I brought a few with me just as a kind of souvenir. They are under that tree.
METCALFE: He used to export cut flowers, as well as fruits and vegetables, to Europe. But three years ago, he sold his farm to the government for a land claim.
JAGER: I left the land claimants with 178,000 of those plants â€“ adult plants in full bloom. Two months later, they all died because they were never watered.
METCALFE: He says the new black owners had no idea how to run the business, and the thriving farm De Jager spent years building is now completely dilapidated. De Jager is a leader of the South African Farmers' Union, AgriSA. He says the same thing is happening to commercial farms across South Africa.
DE JAGER: I've been involved in land claims process all over the country, and I'm dead serious when I tell you I can't bring you to one single farm that's been transferred that's still functioning, profitable.
METCALFE: Last year, for the first time in decades, South Africa began importing more food than it's exporting. Commercial farmers believe land reform is at least partly to blame. But Beverly Jansen, a provincial land claims commissioner based in Cape Town, points out it takes time to make a farm profitable and that white farmers also took years to succeed.
JANSEN: And they've had almost a half a century of support. The apartheid state gave the people loans, hardly with any interest. They opened agricultural schools. There just was a whole range of support -- and some of those farmers also failed.
METCALFE: The problem, critics say, is that these new inexperienced black farmers also desperately need support to run these complex commercial farms, and they're not getting it. Ishmael Lutswalu, a leader of the Tswalu tribe in Limpopo, says when his community got back a half dozen prime farms 8 years ago, government officials had no idea how to help them.
LUTSWALU: They didn't have any experience to have plans in place. Without skills, without capacity building, without proper funding.
METCALFE: Now their farms are deep in debt. And Lutswalu says, his people are clamoring to see benefits.
LUTSWALU: You are dealing with a hungry community. If you tell them you get profit or proceeds after 3 or 5 years, aahh â€“ they want money now, because they've been impoverished for so many years.
METCALFE: So land claimants who can't make their farms work often strip them of anything they can sell â€“ even irrigation pipes â€“ to get some small benefit. Theo De Jager from the farmers union says many of these failures could be avoided if white farmers were allowed to be involved. De Jager says he and some of his neighbors offered to sell their farms into joint ventures with the land claimants.
DE JAGER: We would have farmed alongside the beneficiaries, training them and doing skills transfer, but we could not get that deal approved by the Department of Land Affairs. And it's all because officials who are simply too young, too inexperienced, and too arrogant to try to understand agriculture.
METCALFE: But land commissioner Beverly Jansen says it is hard to believe white farmers are sincere, considering how badly many of them treated their black workers during apartheid. Jansen explains that her father grew up on a white-owned farm and ran away at 14.
JANSEN: Because of the incredible hardships that they suffered while living on farms â€“ hunger, lack of drinking water, no electricity â€“ so you can understand the suspicion and the lack of trust.
METCALFE: But land reform experts say there is a new generation of enlightened white farmers in South Africa â€“ and the ANC government needs to get past its mistrust and start using their expertise, because right now virtually no one â€“ least of all poor blacks â€“ is benefiting from land reform. For The World, I'm Rhoda Metcalfe, in Cape Town.