New farmers take root in South Africa's old tribal lands

Thu Mar 19, 2015 2:29pm EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

LOSKOP, South Africa (Reuters) - New farmers are turning the soil to profit in South Africa's old tribal homelands as Pretoria speeds the transfer of land from whites to blacks.

Land is an emotive issue in South Africa, with most remaining in white hands 21 years after the end of apartheid despite the ruling African National Congress's efforts at redistribution.

The rural homelands, however, are held in trust by tribal authorities and are not on the government policy radar screen as it focuses on dealing with white-owned commercial farms.

Known as Bantustans under the apartheid regime, different tribes were confined to them but they were abolished with the end of white minority rule.

Most rural South Africans still reside in such areas, and partnerships between locals and agri-business on the underutilized soil may provide an alternative to the ANC's model.

Jabulani Mbele, 64, is one black farmer who is making the transition from spartan subsistence to marketing cash crops, assisted by commercial agriculture.

Standing amid rows of maize in the old Zulu homeland of KwaZulu, he told Reuters he expected to get 7 tonnes a hectare when he harvests in a few weeks' time - an excellent yield in drought-hit South Africa.

"I built these with the money from these fields," he said, pointing to the homes on his plot.   Continued...