Opponents say it has resulted in farms being sold hastily to local communities without adequate agricultural training, and led to a form of ‘crony capitalism’ that benefits only a small black élite.
The wine industry has demonstrated some of the best models, founded on a genuine partnership between communities and established wine producers.
Thandi started as a Black Economic Empowerment partnership with global giant Omnia, which still has a 33% share in the brand. It is sold in the UK as a fair trade label in stores including The Co-op. Thandi operates a profit-and-share distribution scheme and sells itself on quality rather than ethical values, says general manager Rydal Jeftha.
“The quality has to be right and production has to be sustainable - that’s the one thing we can’t fail on,” he says.
Stellenbosch empowerment brand Bouwland was created by the sale of part of the Beyerskloof farm by owner Beyers Truter, who still owns a 26% share and remains involved in production. Truter says: “I came to realise these guys had the same craving as me - to own a piece of land. When the government grants came up, we could realise that dream.”
Fruit farmers are also responding. Avocado producer Hall’s in Nelspruit sold 6,000ha to a trust set up by the local community and is helping manage the farm. Trustee Snow Mdluli says: “It’s going well but hasn’t been completely smooth. There have been hiccups in getting skills from the previous owners. We need more training. We can’t take over overnight.”