In the past 24 years the African National Congress-led government presided over a state where black people's progress in land rights not only slowed down but regressed, according to researchers from the Plaas Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.
Plaas researchers Professor Ruth Hall and Professor Ben Cousins were addressing a land reform workshop at the university's campus in Bellville, Cape Town this week. The land reform issue has returned to the centre of South Africa's socio-economic stage in recent months.
The workshop followed Parliament's adoption of a motion and investigation into amending the Constitution to allow government to expropriate land without compensation to those who own it, with a view to fast-tracking land reform.
The researchers said the ANC government's intentions to change the patterns of land ownership in SA had unintended consequences in both urban and rural land reform that saw many disadvantaged people's rights violated.
Not least on the list of disasters in SA's early democracy, Plaas research found that 2.3 million people had been displaced from farms since the advent of democracy and that of these 940 000 had been forcefully removed off the farms where they lived.
This calamitous statistic was believed to be linked to the perception on the part of farmers that land reform would be implemented on the basis of giving farm labourers rights to land which they lived and worked on. This was coupled with a backlog in land claims that had stood in the tens of thousands for nearly 20 years.
Hall said the category of people living and working on farms were an important category politically, with the De Doorns farm strikes of 2012 highlighting the conditions of farm labourers throughout the country.
She said the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997 and the Land Reform Labour Tenants Act of 1996 were central to the ANC's ambitions in early democracy as they aimed to limit the legal power of farmers to displace workers and to secure the rights of farm labourers respectively.
However, she said, social surveys showed that less than 1% of the removals from farms had to do with the legal ownership of farms on which the displaced people worked or lived.
Cousins said the democratic dispensation's decision to do away with agriculture sector subsidies meant that smaller farms could not continue going on in business and that only larger or more competent agricultural businesses could survive without government assistance.
"We are not only reproducing the inequalities and divides of apartheid, in some cases, we are actually deepening them. In Section 25 of the Bill of Rights and the property clause there is a mandate of transformation and that has not been met," said Cousins.
Mercy Brown-Luthango of the African Centre for Cities said the metropolitan municipalities had not done enough to re-imagine cities sufficiently to improve the state of underdeveloped communities, but that cities continued to develop city centres instead of townships.
The result was the continuing expansion of informal settlements and the ever increasing demand for basic services, she said.