Unused Agricultural Land: Setting The Record Straight


With the recent surge in political rhetoric regarding the land debate, there’s been a corresponding surge in myths surrounding land usage in South Africa. One of these is the myth of “unused” agricultural land owned by private legal subjects. I feel compelled to respond to this and set the record straight.

Farmers, mostly livestock farmers, divide their farms up into camps. The reason, unbeknownst to many, is simple: grazing areas need to be rested in order for them to recover. Livestock are thus moved between camps in seasonal cycles; when one camp is used for grazing, other “unused” camps are being rested for when it’s time for livestock to graze there again. I put unused in inverted commas because the camps are technically still in use by farmers over the medium/long term.

I understand why it’s easy for someone with a less than rudimentary knowledge regarding farming to drive past hectares of farmland without any livestock grazing on it to then conclude that the land is not used in general and can therefor be expropriated in order for someone else to use it. Understandable, but wrong.

The discourse surrounding the land question has unfortunately been fraught with factual inaccuracies that only serve to obfuscate reality (note that myths are perpetuated by both proponents and opponents of expropriation, whether with or without compensation). It is our ethical duty to respond accordingly and let truth and reason prevail so that the discourse train can keep on running smoothly.