Po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency plays a hand

But Govern­ment says ‘noth­ing sin­is­ter’ about en­hanced pow­ers

Finweek English Edition - - Insight - TROYE LUND

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.

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