Land is­sue clouded by mis­in­for­ma­tion and lack of data

Afro Voice (Northern Cape) - - COMMENT - Ben Cousins is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of the Western Cape.

PAR­LIA­MENT has passed a res­o­lu­tion to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion and al­low ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion. The de­ci­sion has gen­er­ated a storm as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, ci­ti­zens and white farm­ers an­tic­i­pate ei­ther the mo­ment of sal­va­tion or dis­as­ter. Sadly, few con­tri­bu­tions to the pub­lic de­bate are in­formed by the avail­able ev­i­dence.

Com­pound­ing this is a se­ri­ous prob­lem – the ab­sence of re­li­able na­tional data on many as­pects of the land is­sue.

Land pol­icy, at the cen­tre of the storm, is flail­ing around in the dark. SA’s land pol­icy is based on three main pil­lars– resti­tu­tion, re­dis­tri­bu­tion and ten­ure re­form. Resti­tu­tion in­volves peo­ple claim­ing back land taken away from them af­ter June 1913, or com­pen­sa­tion for their loss. Land re­dis­tri­bu­tion in­volves ac­quir­ing and trans­fer­ring land from white farm­ers to black farm­ers. Ten­ure re­form aims to se­cure the land rights of those whose rights are in­se­cure as a re­sult of past dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Land re­form has been slow, with the gov­ern­ment re­port­ing that, so far, around 9% of com­mer­cial farm­land has been trans­ferred through resti­tu­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion. Ten­ure re­form has been in­ef­fec­tive, with many poor peo­ple as in­se­cure as they ever were. But, in re­al­ity, there is only the hazi­est of un­der­stand­ings of how well or how badly land re­form is do­ing and why.

The woe­ful record keep­ing of na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­part­ments is partly to blame. The last cen­sus of com­mer­cial farm­ing con­ducted in 2007 un­der­es­ti­mates the true num­bers of farm own­ers as it only re­ports on farms that are reg­is­tered for VAT – those with a min­i­mum turnover of R1m. And Stat­sSA agri­cul­tural re­ports don’t dis­tin­guish farms by size or value of out­put. In gen­eral, the lack of ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on land re­form and the ru­ral econ­omy al­lows much of the pub­lic de­bate to be mis­in­formed, and is a se­ri­ous con­straint on pol­icy mak­ing. Data deficit No­body knows pre­cisely how much agri­cul­tural land has been pri­vately pur­chased by black farm­ers and how much has been ac­quired via land re­form.

Con­sider two na­tional land au­dits re­leased re­cently, one by AgriSA and the other by gov­ern­ment. Both are based on anal­y­sis of in­for­ma­tion de­rived from ti­tle deeds in the na­tional reg­istry.

The AgriSA au­dit of 2017 ar­gues that the ini­tial tar­get of trans­fer­ring 30% of agri­cul­tural land via land re­form is close to be­ing met. It con­cludes that the mar­ket is more ef­fec­tive at trans­fer­ring land than the state.

But the mar­ket is not re­dis­tribut­ing land to black peo­ple to the ex­tent AgriSA claims. Its con­clu­sions are flawed. For ex­am­ple, much of the 4.3 mil­lion hectares of land it says were ac­quired through pri­vate pur­chases by pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged in­di­vid­u­als in­cludes trans­fers of land as a re­sult of land re­form.

In these cases, the gov­ern­ment has pro­vided funds and served as an in­ter­me­di­ary in trans­ac­tions. So they weren’t pri­vate trans­ac­tions.

The gov­ern­ment’s lat­est land au­dit is not use­ful. It pro­vides some ev­i­dence of con­tin­u­ing pat­terns of racial in­equal­ity in land own­er­ship. But it can’t iden­tify the racial, gen­der and na­tional iden­tity of the 320 000 com­pa­nies, trusts and com­mu­nity based or­gan­i­sa­tions that own 61% of all pri­vately owned land.

Nei­ther of these au­dits is able to iden­tify zones of need and op­por­tu­nity for land re­form, cru­cial for well planned re­dis­tri­bu­tion, sim­ply be­cause they don’t ex­ist.

There is al­most zero in­for­ma­tion on how many peo­ple have ac­tu­ally ben­e­fited from land re­form, pat­terns of land use af­ter trans­fer and lev­els of pro­duc­tion and in­come. A few re­ports on these is­sues have been pub­lished, but they aren’t a sub­sti­tute for sys­tem­atic data col­lec­tion. In re­la­tion to deeds reg­istry data, there are vast dis­crep­an­cies be­tween of­fi­cial records for black land own­ers, both ru­ral and ur­ban, and re­al­i­ties on the ground.

In our 2017 book, Un­ti­tled. Se­cur­ing land ten­ure in ur­ban and ru­ral South Africa, we es­ti­mate that close to 60% of all South Africans hold land or hous­ing out­side the for­mal sys­tem and the deeds reg­istry can tell us lit­tle or noth­ing about these re­al­i­ties. De­bunk­ing myths Of­fi­cial data, although in­ad­e­quate, does al­low com­mon mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions of land re­form to be re­futed. For ex­am­ple, one widely held view is that the great ma­jor­ity of land resti­tu­tion claimants have cho­sen cash com­pen­sa­tion rather than restora­tion of their land. This is non­sense. Around 87% of land claims lodged by the cut­off date in 1998 were to ur­ban prop­er­ties and in most cases claimants were of­fered (and ac­cepted) a stan­dard cash set­tle­ment, be­cause restora­tion was clearly im­prac­ti­ca­ble. But the great ma­jor­ity of ru­ral claimants have opted for restora­tion.

An­other mis­con­cep­tion is that land re­form can in­volve the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of state owned land. The re­al­ity is that most state land in ru­ral ar­eas com­prises densely set­tled com­mu­nal land which ob­vi­ously isn’t avail­able for re­dis­tri­bu­tion. The re­cent gov­ern­ment land au­dit shows that state land com­prises only 18% of the to­tal. In ur­ban ar­eas, how­ever, sta­te­owned land can be used for low cost hous­ing if it is in ap­pro­pri­ate lo­ca­tions close to eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties.

The sin­gle most mis­lead­ing “fact” is the as­ser­tion by for­mer min­is­ter Gugile Nk­winti that 90% of land re­form projects have failed. This has no foun­da­tion in any re­search ev­i­dence – a fact that he him­self later ad­mit­ted.

Em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence sug­gests that around 50% of the projects have im­proved the liveli­hoods of ben­e­fi­cia­ries. This is not to say that these land re­form projects have been highly pro­duc­tive. The real po­ten­tial of ru­ral land re­form and agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment, as well as ur­ban land re­form, to re­duce poverty and in­equal­ity, has not been re­alised to date. So­lu­tions How to ac­quire and trans­fer land, the fo­cus of much de­bate, is the least dif­fi­cult as­pect of land re­form. It sim­ply re­quires in­creas­ing the tiny bud­get and pay­ing just and eq­ui­table com­pen­sa­tion in line with the Con­sti­tu­tion. – the­con­ver­sa­

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