Political expediency plays a hand
But Government says ‘nothing sinister’ about enhanced powers
AS GOVERNMENT prepares to reintroduce the contentious Expropriation Bill to Parliament – which is aimed at breaking the deadlock when farmers refuse to sell on the terms being offered – the State’s obsession about how to get more land (instead of how best to use it) threatens to undermine its entire land reform programme.
There’s no doubt the entire process about the Expropriation Bill – withdrawn from Parliament in 2008 due to constitutional concerns – has been poorly managed politically. While that’s been accompanied by more than a decade of Government flip-flopping on its land reform policy, one thing is certain: the Constitution demands the State pass legislation enabling it to expropriate land “in the public interest” (current legislation allows expropriation for “public purposes” only) and to pay a “fair and equitable” price for it (as opposed to market value).
“The Constitution upholds the rights of both property owners and the rights of those dispossessed of property, yet in practice where owners won’t agree to sell, they’ve been able to veto – effectively – the pursuit of land reform. That’s precisely why provision for expropriation for land reform purposes was agreed to in our political settlement and then confirmed in our Constitution,” says Ruth Hall, of the University of the Western Cape’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies.
Director-general in charge of the cashstrapped Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Tozi Gwanya, says there’s “nothing sinister” about enhanced expropriation powers: they’re especially necessary in the context of restitution claims, where particular land is being claimed by particular people. He says in those cases farmers often demand inflated prices, which is a key obstacle to what Government is trying to achieve.
Hall agrees, and says now the priority must be for Government to provide certainty and predictability to the expropriation process, especially when it comes to the issue of compensation and the role of the courts. The uncertainty about Government’s position on expropriation is unnecessary, she claims, and likely to grow as the ANC plans to get some political mileage out of the Bill’s return to Parliament in the run-up to next year’s local government elections.
But the bottom line is that legislation is in no way a panacea for the myriad of problems facing SA’s land reform programme. The critical question is: How, when it’s eventually on the statute books, will the legislation be used?
Hall says: “As land moves up the political agenda it risks becoming a political football. The debate needs not to be only about how to get the land but also who it’s for and how it will be held and used. With the new suggestion that the State retains ownership of redistributed land, policy discussion must centre on the State’s capacity to manage land and what kind of agriculture we want to see. The focus should be on getting the policies of the Departments of Agriculture and Land Reform in sync.”
While moving ahead with the Expropriation Bill to acquire more land for redistribution, Government now opts for retaining ownership of the land rather than handing it on in full title to beneficiaries. That approach is likely to be confirmed in the new Green Paper expected to be published for comment later this month or early in June. However, Hall warns this shouldn’t become a tool to evict beneficiaries deemed to be failing – a tool used in lieu of plans to improve the model of land reform and support itself.
Former Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Lulu Xingwana popularised the notion of a “use it or lose it” approach to land reform when she attempted to evict a farmer in Gauteng, despite the farmer having won a prize for her farming operations. This sort of practice points to the inherent dangers of a system that focuses on parading politically sexy land acquisition and redistribution figures that ultimately breed failure on redistributed farms. This, in turn, adds to the political pressure and the temptation to make politically expedient decisions.