Land Reform: The key challenge of our time

By Nurene Jassiem

Land has always been a hot topic in South Africa, but a few weeks after President Cyril Ramaphosa has taken over the highest seat in the land, it’s been thrust into the spotlight afresh. His musings on expropriation without compensation have property owners concerned, as do the Economic Freedom Fighters occupying vacant stretches of land in various provinces. Add to this the controversial statements by Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton insisting that white South African farmers must flee “horrific circumstances” for a “civilised country”.

Moreover, last week’s Human Rights Day march saw thousands of Cape Town residents take to the streets to demand adequate housing. The daily realities of millions of South Africans who are forced to endure substandard human conditions can no longer be ignored. But how can these inequalities be addressed taking into account the complex dynamics of land reform?

Earlier this month, The Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town held a dialogue titled “The Question of Land Reform in South Africa and Zimbabwe”. Three speakers addressed some of the essential aspects of this political move more than two decades into our democracy. Solly Mapaila, First Deputy Secretary General South African Communist Party, Dr Prosper Matondi, Executive Director of the Ruzivo Trust in Harare, Zimbabwe and Professor Ben Cousins DST/NRF Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences University of the Western Cape spoke on a topic that many would insist is long overdue.

Cousins argued that although there is a “great deal of panic by property owners… the panic is not justified.” He said that we need to “rethink” the land question and start making the necessary changes to reduce inequality, especially when it comes to agriculture.

Ramaphosa has stressed that land expropriation will be done without threatening investment or food security. And Cousins said that one of the most important sectors to pay attention to in order to keep to this promise is the informal economy.

“[The informal economy] is an aspect of our society which is grossly neglected and it’s most apparent in the agricultural sector where small-scale farmers are making major contributions but are not being recognised,” he said, adding that the land reform programme should have a greater goal in mind, namely job creation and contributing to the economy.

“Small-scale farmers producing for informal markets [in South Africa] are making a major contribution to our economy and our society, but are not being recognised for it,” he said.

Cousins also argued that the more resources that are provided to small-scale farmers, the better, because they often do a much better job than multinational and corporations when it comes to growing the economy and creating employment.

In this way, Cousins said, a land reform programme which gathers data and sets into motion a process of fundamental change and structural reform could serve as a model for wider reform in the South African economy as a whole.

He also condemned the controversial Ingonyama Trust, which many believe are furthering land dispossession in KwaZulu Natal. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe is chairing a high-level panel, which concluded earlier this month that the Ingonyama Trust Act must be repealed. What this essentially means is that almost three million hectares of land under the Trust will be transferred to the state for redistribution.

“What’s key is the political will to take land reform seriously,” said Cousins. He emphasised that there must be adequate budget for land reform and land redistribution. But it’s not only about having deep pockets. Political will also means government departments that can implement policy.

Cousins also made reference to the High-Level Panel report on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change which was released late last year, wherein a recommendation is made that government should use its expropriation powers more boldly rather than changing the Constitution.

Also speaking at the public dialogue was Dr Prosper Matondi, Executive Director of the Ruzivo Trust in Harare, Zimbabwe. The Ruzivo Trust is an organisation which focuses on the best practices on land, agriculture and livelihoods in Zimbabwe. Matondi warned that the acquisition of land should not be the main focus of a land reform policy, and that people should ask themselves what they would do with the land should they get it.

“You think that if you take the land today, then that is the end of the story, but it is actually just the beginning,” Matondi said.

Using the example of the chicken value chain in Zimbabwe, he said that while there are now “thousands and thousands” of chicken producers in Zimbabwe, the market is still controlled by only 12 white farmers from the previous regime.

“We must not forget that at the end of the day the issues around social justice, equities and the responsibility of owning land are also fundamental,” he said.

Matondi stressed the importance of developing a reform policy that deals with issues such as the defining of land claimants, dispute resolution mechanisms and land-use planning.

He highlighted the importance of consultations between victims and claimants and the current owners of the land to find solutions together.

“In Zimbabwe we are still grappling with the same question, but there has been significant movement”. We have a majority of smallholder farmers.

But legality around the land question is at the core of Matondi’s research. “Land is about power relationships, it is also about rights, it is also about correcting some of the historical injustices,” he said.

Matondi said that South Africa can learn some important lessons from Zimbabwe’s land reform. “How do you move ahead?…Look at risks associated with the [land reform] moves you’re wanting to take. Look at the sensitivities and look at your certainties. [These] are key to any land reform programme.”

The question around compensation is also essential and the variables that are taken into consideration. “Even with the best valuation methods, it’s still very difficult,” he said. Dispute resolution mechanisms also need to be prepared well beforehand. “By design of the land reform programme you must have a mechanism to deal with disputes,” he said, adding that the “victims” and the “victors” must find an answer together. Communication is key.

“Let’s talk about it,” he said.

The audio can be downloaded and listened to here.

More stories in Issue 96

Contributors

Nurene Jassiem

Nurene is a media and communications professional who cut her teeth as a journalist at the tender age of 15 at a local community radio station. Since graduating from the then Peninsula Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology) in 2004, she has worked in both mainstream and community newspapers where she covered a range […]

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Land Reform 101 - what you need to know

Parliament has passed a resolution to amend the Constitution and allow expropriation without compensation. The decision has sparked debate, outrage and even confusion as political parties, citizens, white farmers and commentators anticipate either the moment of salvation or disaster. Question being bandied about are: What is land reform? How has land restitution evolved since 1994? What does land restitution mean and; What is willing buyer, willing seller and why did it fail? Professor Ruth Hall, from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) at the University of the Western Cape speaks to Eusebius McKaiser to give answers on some commonly asked questions on expropriation of land without compensation.

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