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Critical success factors

Over the years we have found that the critical elements for success are many and varied, and may even differ from one project to the next. Those elements which feature most prominently in our land transformation projects are:

  • An acknowledgement of the need for redress to right the wrongs of the past.

  • An understanding of the historical imbalance in power relations between farm worker and farm owner, and finding constructive ways to deal with it. This creates the opportunity to explore new business ventures on the basis of mutual trust and equality.

  • Understanding the need to make full use of the value chain to settle and truly empower black commercial farmers, as opposed to just giving them access to land.

  • Understanding the need for effective partnerships with government and other stakeholders.

  • Focused mentorship, aimed at addressing the genuine shortcomings of the land reform beneficiary through skills transfer programmes.

  • Long-term planning with a clearly defined exit strategy for the white partner.

  • Dedicated staff to drive empowerment.

  • Willingness to invest human and financial resources to advance land transformation.

Practical approach to tackling a land reform project

Through experience we learned the following practical lessons that we would like to share with others who embark on similar journeys:

  • Be clear about why you want to empower your workers.

  • Take time to consider the extent to which you will (have to) change during this process. Your relationship with your workers must change from one where you are in complete control to one in which you invite some level of participation in decision-making. If this does not appeal to you then you should not consider tackling a project.

  • Be clear about what you want to do in terms of project scope, number of participants and what you hope to achieve through the project for the proposed beneficiaries as well as for yourself.

  • There may be many ways to achieve your objective. Execute the plan that you believe in. Mistakes will be made during this process - fortunately it is through making mistakes that we learn and grow.

  • Projects with fewer participants are easier to manage than large ones (more than 20 participants), but this does not mean that large projects are doomed to failure. Large projects just hold greater potential for disagreement among beneficiaries and require more direct management. A further consideration is the potential financial benefits to participants. Fewer beneficiaries mean more money per individual, which will have a greater impact on their lives – unless the project is sufficiently profitable to accommodate more beneficiaries.

  • The choice of legal entities will depend on the size and scope of the project. Trusts are easy to register and manage, but most importantly for the purpose of empowerment, its functioning is easy to understand. It may be necessary for a Workers Trust to hold shares in an Operating or Land Holding company which have a myriad of rules and regulations, but this can be managed by putting proper processes in place to ensure that the participants receive adequate training about the functioning of legal entities.

  • The importance of appointing independent Trustees or Directors cannot be overemphasised. Your current auditor or lawyer may seem an obvious and comfortable choice, but you could be better served seeking someone not aligned with you or your business dealings.

  • An initial discussion with the workers around the proposed project should only take place once you have clarity about the what, who and how of the project. Do not create an unrealistic expectation. This discussion should be basic but informative, and should emphasise that the project outcome cannot be guaranteed. Not all your employees may be suited to the project, or some may choose not to participate. Find alternative ways to empower them.

  • Provide regular feedback on progress, especially the lack thereof. If an application is made for funding on beneficiaries’ behalf, whether for grants or loans, these feedback sessions are more critical. Do not operate on the assumption that you don’t give regular feedback because they won’t understand – find ways of simplifying the message.

  • Employ an experienced external facilitator to lead the detailed discussions with the workers around business structure, legal entities and finances. This will require a number of sessions due to the unfamiliarity of concepts and the level of detail which needs to be imparted to ensure that workers are adequately informed. Remember that having information does not equate to understanding the subject matter. 

  • Post-settlement support is imperative. Regardless of project type, appoint someone for a minimum period of 12 months to implement the business plan and to assist the beneficiaries with coming to terms with the challenges of their new status as shareholders/owners/directors/trustees. If the external facilitator and beneficiaries have a good working relationship, look no further.