AFRA News, Land News

A national dialogue to overhaul land reform


In 2007, amidst a fierce leadership battle, the African National Congress (ANC) passed a resolution regarding access to free higher education almost unnoticed by the general public and one may say, the ANC itself. That particular resolution would hamstring the party as the “Fees Must Fall” protest movement overtook institutions of higher learning over the recent period and would presage President Zuma’s announcement on the eve of the ANC’s 54th Conference of free tertiary education.

Unlike that resolution, the current resolution on land has both been hotly contested and keenly awaited. Whatever history will make of the results of the latest round of leadership battles in Africa’s oldest surviving liberation movement, we must admit that very little of the specifics of what has been resolved on this critical issue have been shared. The new leadership expressed itself as follows:

The issue of land has been a matter of great concern to our people whose land was taken from them. We will accelerate our programme of land reform and rural development as part of our programme of radical socio economic transformation. This Conference has resolved that the expropriation of land without compensation should be among the mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution. It has also resolved that in determining the mechanisms of implementation, we must ensure that we do not undermine the economy, agricultural production and food security.”

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC President, 21st December 2017

The resolution by the ANC in respect of land at its 54th Conference is reflective of what it described as a condition of “land hunger and land anger”, which it seeks to remedy through the amendment to section 25 of the Constitution for expropriation of land for “public purpose”. The “modalities” will be decided by the incoming National Executive Committee, presumably at its next meeting.

Given the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, amending the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation smacks of “the cure being worse than the disease”; a remedy, while popular, not in keeping with the diagnosis and certainly by itself incapable of curing the ill which it purports to address.

AFRA has long held the view that land redistribution should answer more basic questions: Redistribution from who, to who and for what purpose? The Constitution has been blamed for a crisis that is not inherent to itself nor a logical outcome of its provisions. Notions of what is and is not “fair” compensation needs legal elaboration. A full and proper elaboration of what a property right is also required to give effect to values of ownership and use which exist beyond a market value based system of ownership. These values are in embedded in the rights afforded labour tenants, farm dwellers and communal communities in legislation, but are of scant concern to the market based valuation system, to which the finger of blame has been pointed in the ANC resolution. Comprehensive overhaul of “land reform” is necessary if the real needs of people, which include the necessity of equity, justice and economic opportunity, are to be met in respect of “the land question”.

Organised agriculture has been united in raising alarm, uniformly drawing on the finding of High Level Panel chaired by former President Motlanthe. All of the attached statements make some reference to the emotive nature of the discussion of land in South Africa and express concerns regarding the economic impact of such a proposed Constitutional change, drawing particular attention to national food security, investor confidence and potential job losses.

The proposed amendment and the responses are, unfortunately, in keeping with the manner in which the question of land has been viewed in South Africa. The governing ANC has long used the land question as a signifier of race, particularly the continued inequalities between the black majority and white minority, born of systematic land dispossession of African people, as codified in the 1913 Native Land Act.

Organised agriculture has determinedly painted itself as the victim of inept government programmes and policies; as an unfairly contrived punching bag for all society’s ills. It has refuted claims of being an Apartheid enclave of master-servant relationships by pointing to its own transformation efforts, particularly various efforts at supporting emerging farmers.

South African society is polarized more or less consistently along racial lines when confronted with this issue. The underlying fissures in society – which extend much further than land per se – require a national dialogue if they are to be successfully addressed. For many South Africans section 25 remains the result of an unfair compromise between the empowered and disempowered and this amendment is viewed as a palpable move to redress that imbalance. The wide-ranging source of this discontent will itself not be resolved by the proposed amendment to the Constitution.

It is our view that a broader engagement between stakeholders can yield a framework which will enable a social compact to emerge giving effect to the Constitutional imperatives of redress, restitution and just and equitable socio-economic transformation. The necessity for a societal dialogue must firstly be recognized, then undertaken, in a determined and responsible manner.

Shared responsibility within a common framework is necessary to mobilize society as a whole to achieve these goals. A perception of unilateral and therefore, enforced land redistribution runs the very real danger of creating economic, social and political conflict which has the potential to tear society as a whole apart. A belligerent and bellicose response from the agricultural sector and its supporters, both political and economic, will surely be received as insensitive and inflammatory to many landless and rural communities, with similar outcomes of social unrest almost guaranteed.

It is our view that much can be drawn from the work of the High Level Panel. As the ANC NEC deliberates on the modalities, we would strongly urge that those should include a wide ranging, transparent and participatory consultative process which takes forward the work of the High Level Panel, necessarily expanding it to include the policy pronouncements of the 54th Conference. It is of great importance that the temptation to bring to bear undue economic or political pressure on governing party from side of South Africa’s elites is resisted and rejected, as much as it is necessary for the governing party to behave in a responsible and transparent manner when putting forward its plans, mindful of the deep suspicion and distrust with which it is currently viewed in society at large.

The process of addressing the very real socio-economic inequalities, among which agrarian transformation and reform are a priority, will not be fully achieved through legislative, Constitutional and policy changes alone. Failures within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform are reality which must urgently be addressed. That the Department as a whole is an epic and tragic failure can surely no longer be ignored by the ANC if it wishes to take even the smallest step forward in persuading stakeholders of its bona fides in respect of land reform. Doing so requires not merely wide ranging pronouncements but detailed and specific reforms based on evidence and experience.

It is urgent that outstanding land claims, land donations and the audit of land ownership are completed expeditiously. AFRA remains deeply disturbed that labour tenant claims, which have been subject to protracted legal battles with the Department, remain unresolved.

These labour tenant claimants continue to work the land productively, yet they remain forgotten citizens. The recent SONA and budget speech did not speak specifically to the needs of this unique group which should be supported to become the bedrock of agrarian transformation. The audit of state owned land is also necessary to fast-track productive investment for small and emerging farmers, who do not necessarily require land ownership but could be accommodated through a range of other tenure arrangements. Corruption in land reform and the illicit transfer of ownership must be rooted out and stopped, including a number of high profile purchases which have occurred for the sole purpose of political patronage and self-enrichment at the expense of the state. We strongly support the President’s recent statement to take action to ensure no person in government is undermining implementation of deadlines set by the court. We hope the President will take action on the many court orders that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has failed to comply with, with regards to settling labour tenant claims.

All stakeholders agree, and we would concur, that meaningful engagement is required to achieve redress and equitable transformation in the agricultural sector. The social reality of people living and working in our rural and agricultural communities remains far too reminiscent of pre-democratic South Africa and these can no longer be ignored. Secure tenure and access to basic services are pressing concerns as well as generators of conflict to which all stakeholders can and must find effective solutions. Outdated and outmoded forms of property ownership can be overcome through an exploration of the many and varied alternatives which are possible.

AFRA believes that the ANC is sensitive to the complexity which is involved in undertaken meaningful redress for social justice and economic transformation in our rural and agricultural communities. We look forward to thorough and detailed engagement and would urge all stakeholders to uphold the values of the South African Constitution as we collectively shape a new process of shared and equitable agricultural rebirth, in which all are secure, protected and prosperous. The injustices and failures of the past can and must be removed as impediments to our shared future. A renewed land reform and agrarian transformation agenda which embraces change is vital for creating a solid foundation for our economy, our people and our environment.


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