brad brown_cc.jpgThroughout Africa land conflicts abound, sometimes they are between ethnic groups and often age, gender and class become involved.  The issue becomes extremely volatile in areas of east and southern Africa, where persons of European descent hold vast tracts of land, the overwhelming proportion of arable land, long after independence.

In South Africa, the approach adopted is for the government to purchase land from willing sellers and redistribute it. Unfortunately, the goals set by the government have not been met and the issue of land reform continues to be a sore point.

My wife Mable and I had the opportunity to visit land reform efforts  in eastern South Africa. This is the part of the country where Europeans have been present for 400 years.  It is the region where slavery was most prominent.  Particularly in the Northern area, many people are descendents of the original inhabitants.

The southern area is the heart of the wine industry long dependent on black labor. Efforts are being made to get black wineries going. We met with individuals trying to assist in this effort. There are now about 20 black-owned and run wineries but they will be lucky if a quarter of them survive. If you are a wine enthusiast you might try to find away to buy products from these wineries.

We traveled to the edge of the Namibian border over spectacular, arid terrain reminiscent of the Great Basin in Nevada or Utah.  Sheep are the major livestock and it takes many acres just to support a single sheep.

Along the Orange River, land is irrigated and the crops are lush. The arid climate makes this a major region for raisin production.  We traveled  with a woman whose father came from that region, tracing his ancestry back to the original San people who called this area home before the Europeans arrived.  She is involved in producing courses to train persons to run farms. 

The issue has to be the change from actually looking after sheep or raising grapes to running a business which often includes an international component to be successful.  We stayed two days in Pella, a small village on the Namibian border,  near an original San settlement where a mission station was established in the early 1800s. It was a warm, friendly place but living conditions were in stark contrast with the white farming areas.

Later, we visited a black-owned vineyard that was going bankrupt, the owner no longer having money for basic expenses. Many white farmers do not believe the local black labor can run a farm successfully, yet some of them are getting government contracts to help train new farm owners.

It is difficult to make that transition from worker to business-owner and hand-holding can help. But the business aspects, including exporting, should be shared if change is to happen.  Without rapid change in land, tenure conflicts are bound to come.  The U.S. Agency for International Development should look into finding the right expertise to help.

Brad Brown is first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects. He may be reached at

Photo: Brad Brown