Originally meant to restore lost land to black South Africans, communal property associations (CPAs) in South Africa are now often plagued by infighting, inadequate management skills, legal non-compliance and little government support. A leading advisor in the CPA arena says a hard look is needed if CPAs in Mzansi are to be saved from a bleak future.
Many CPAs across the country are currently regarded as dysfunctional by the Vumelana Advisory Fund. The fund supports communal property associations in administering land for the benefit of their communities and has, to date, concluded 23 projects involving some 18 communities and 70 000 hectares that could potentially come into production.
Peter Setou, Vumelana chief executive, says that most of the country’s CPAs are failing to comply with the Communal Property Associations Act (28 of 1996), which allows for a group of people to buy and manage land as a single legal entity. Around 1 600 CPAs are currently registered in Mzansi, with the majority situated in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The department of agriculture has itself painted a dim view about the CPAs in general and there are a number of them that are dysfunctional,” Setou tells Food For Mzansi.
While some are doing great work, others are engulfed in non-developmental issues, he says.
The challenges that plague CPAs
According to a report compiled by the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on land reform, environment, mineral resources and energy, who shadows the work done by the national departments, CPAs face challenges in both the establishment and post-establishment phases.
The report states that the CPA management model is unfamiliar or a somewhat foreign form of land management in traditional communities. It also points out that a substantial number of the associations’ members are either illiterate or have no more than primary-level education.
“Constitutions of CPAs are sometimes poorly drafted and generally written in a language that is not commonly used by members. Insufficient time is spent on the design and getting members to appreciate the nature of the entity,” the report continues.
Some of the associations furthermore receive highly sophisticated or diverse enterprises that require strong business leadership that is in short supply within their membership. In essence, the CPA as an institution is sometimes not the appropriate entity to run a business.
Apart from this, the report says “there is considerable political and business interference in well-resourced CPAs, which destabilise such CPAs”.
Setou believes much more attention must be given to the original mandate of communal property associations – to hold and administer restored land on behalf of their communities – and the practicalities of achieving that.
“They must… be properly constituted with an approved constitution and approved policies and procedures. They must have sound financial administration and, in particular, produce audited financial statements and hold general meetings to report back to the community.”
Setou believes that CPAs are still relevant but need all stakeholders involved and working together to foster the needs of the communities first, especially in farming areas.
“Good governance in the CPAs is a key ingredient in attaining successful land reform,” Setou says. “There is, however, a need for government to put programmes in place to support CPAs so that they can run their affairs better and efficiently. Well-run CPAs will become effective in driving development of the land.”
Restore the trust of the community
Meanwhile, Ralph Cloete of the Richtersveld Communal Property Association tells Food For Mzansi that the newly elected leadership will need to work hard to restore the trust of the community.
This CPA came into the spotlight recently when Northern Cape MEC Mase Manopole visited the Richtersveld Growers farm to mark an investment of R8 million into the association’s irrigation farms.
“We have, in the past, not had a good relationship as members of the CPA, which led to the collapse of it,” says Cloete. “I think we can correct the errors of the past and focus on sustainable development through agricultural projects.”
He still believes in the model, though, and is looking forward to start afresh. “I think there must be agricultural irrigation land available for community-based entities like agricultural cooperatives so that they can contribute to food security and job creation.”
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