It was meant to right the discrimination and land dispossession of the past. Yet it is simply not getting the job done. Mzansi’s project to establish communal property associations (CPAs) as a way to fight poverty isn’t necessary a bad one, but intervention will be needed if the original purpose is to be fulfilled, experts say. They believe it can still be done.
“Communities with the ability to govern and administer their affairs have the potential to become vehicles of local economic development and create much-needed jobs for their members and the neighbouring communities, thereby reducing poverty,” says Vumelana Advisory Fund chief executive Peter Setou.
Vumelana is a non-profit organisation aimed at advising and helping land reform beneficiaries. He says that if CPAs are to help historically disadvantaged communities find their way out of poverty, the land must remain productive, administration must be effectively and the interest of members must be kept in mind.
But what are CPAs?
The definition of a CPA, according to the Communal Property Associations Act 28 of 1996, is a community formed into a legal entity that can “acquire, hold and manage property on a basis agreed to by members of a community”. This means that people who are beneficiaries of land reform have access to land as part of the CPA.
Management of CPA land, however, is subject to many stipulations according to the act, to ensure that “non-discriminatory, equitable, and democratic” application of land reform takes place.
State of CPAs across the country
In their 2021 CPA report, the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development confirmed that of the over 1 700 CPAs in existence, only about 20% were in a “compliant” status, meaning they meet the stipulations of the act.
Only 111 CPAs were found to be fully compliant, and 201 were partially compliant. An overwhelming 1 047 CPAs did not meet the CPA act criteria.
Setou says there are numerous factors that limit the effectiveness of CPAs in the country. “Effective governance by these entities is often beset with challenges, as they might be first-time landowners.
“They do not have adequate resources to work and manage the land, they have limited skills to run the required operations and the governance structures are often weak or non-existent. A breakdown in governance accountability and transparency can lead to conflict and institutional collapse.”
Molatelo Mohale, programme office for Nkuzi Development Association, agrees. He points out that currently, the general state of CPAs are not what the government envisaged when the mechanism was formulated. Using Limpopo as an example, he says that the issue is more than just compliance.
“They have farms, but because farms were just transferred in their name with no post-settlement support, they are just forced to do malicious compliance.
“Sometimes they just organise quarterly meetings to say actually nothing. So, I think that the state of the CPA is worrying because of the historical lack of post-settlement support and also because they have been having land for a long time and are not using it.”
The importance of post-settlement support
For Mohale, issues like land invasions, a lack of innovation and inadequate support are all things that hinder CPA progress. He also says that, in his experience, government officials often do not maintain the required contact with CPA communities, which also throws a wrench in the effective governance of a CPA.
“I know [of a CPA] where an official had been silent, never said anything, never called the community for more than two years. Then the official suddenly came to a mass meeting and just abruptly announced that the term of the current CPA committee has lapsed. You can imagine: it’s like a person throwing a bomb among people having a gathering and trying to kill everybody!”
For Setou, post-settlement support is a critical factor in ensuring the productive use of CPA land. He says that CPAs should partner with private investors who have access to finance, skills and markets.
“You need skilled and independent transaction advisors who can assist communities to attract and negotiate fair and sustainable commercial agreements between them as new landowners and the private investors.”
These independent advisors should be funded by government, says Setou, if they want to make a meaningful difference.
“Government should also provide capacity-building and organisational development in partnership with organisations that have the required experience in this work.”
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