Hot land issue requires cool heads
Current rhetoric presents the arguments as a zero-sum game – you are either entirely in favour or entirely against the ‘expropriation without compensation’ proposal, there is no middle ground, writes Zamikhaya Maseti
THE recent adoption of the motion on the expropriation of land without compensation by the National Assembly has served to intensify the already heated debates on the country’s agricultural trajectory and its future.
The fierce debate in the National Assembly revealed just how complex land and agricultural reform is in South Africa.
What is clear from the motion is that the status quo on land is both completely untenable and unsustainable. To ignore these realities is unwise and altogether dangerous.
It is no secret that the government’s land reform programme has not achieved its intended outcomes. The former minister of rural development and land reform explained during the land expropriation debate in Parliament that the first group of land reform beneficiaries under the then Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development programme had sold 5% of the redistributed farms back to the white commercial farmers who used to own it.
This just highlights one of a number of challenges that have plagued our land reform efforts to date.
Even with policy developments seeking to address these issues and to fasttrack the land reform process, such as the implementation of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy; government’s “use it or lose it” approach adopted in 2008, the 50/50 policy; the Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill; the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill; and the Communal Land Bill, the pace of land reform has been painfully slow.
One of the greatest land reform challenges to-date is the underutilisation of agricultural land that was given to communities especially in communal areas.
Accurate official information on just how much land has been redistributed since 1994 is difficult to come by, including information on how much of this land is now productive.
It is widely acknowledged by sector players, including the government, that a major part of this lack of productivity is due to the lack of capacity and skills of those who have received land, as well as a lack of access to finance. This is a barrier that actually serves to reverse agricultural transformation in South Africa.
With the motion on land expropriation without compensation now taking centre stage in the land debate, it is more important than ever to revisit the issue of land reform as a key departure point.
The debate around whether or not the state should target private land or state land is less important than addressing the historical injustices brought about by the Land Act of 1913.
The constitution and other government policy documents, such as the National Development Plan, call for the greater inclusion of historically disadvantaged individuals into the agriculture sector, the facilitation of increased access to land, as well as a deracialised sector working to achieve redress for past discriminatory policies.
Some of the rhetoric in this debate presents the arguments as a sort of zero-sum game – you are either entirely in favour or entirely against the “expropriation without compensation” proposal. There is no middle ground.
With the complexities associated with land in general, however, a deeper approach to understanding and application is going to be essential as we move forward.
It is entirely rational to support all efforts to advance an effective land reform programme that will achieve transformation in tandem with increased agricultural production, secure tenure, employment creation and food security. Given the skewed nature of land ownership, it is also entirely rational to understand the strong calls for redress, especially in the face of deepening inequality and poverty which still persist very much along racial lines.
Both the government and the governing party have continued to reiterate their commitment to implementing this option in a way in which potential risks and concerns are appropriately reduced.
However this option materialises, it is important that the approach taken shields the economy from undesirable negative impacts and serves to strengthen agricultural production, property values, employment creation and food security.
As policymakers move to implement proposals on the expropriation of land without compensation, it is critical that they comprehend and navigate the complexities and intricacies that underpin land reform in South Africa.
The often competing and conflicting demands for land require a careful balancing act from a policy perspective.
The phenomenon of in-migration continues to pose a serious challenge to the land reform and urbanisation processes, particularly with the increasing demand for residential land in urban centres.
Local municipalities are faced with these challenges every day and Human Settlements programmes are compromised. The state ought to be in a better position to mitigate these often conflicting and competing demands for land.
The challenge of access to finance that is facing black farmers and producers is one complexity that government has not be able to fully comprehend since the dawn of democracy. A new land reform policy will have to reconfigure integrated agri- cultural development finance.
Of critical importance will be the post-settlement support given to beneficiaries of land reform. The reconfiguration of agricultural finance should include mobilisation of the entire financial sector and state resources in support of land reform in its entirety.
There are various instruments and approaches available to advance land reform and the recent developments regarding expropriation without compensation afford an additional option in a range of existing alternatives. The constitutional review process initiated by Parliament will provide an opportunity for wide-ranging public consultations on the matter from a range of stakeholders.
Already a number of options have been bandied about for policymakers to consider. These include a reconsideration of the “use-it-or-lose-it” principle for the millions of hectares of land lying fallow in communal areas, as well as of land belonging to absentee property owners.
There are also calls for the introduction of a land cap of 12 000 hectares or two farms, as proposed in the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, enabling the state to then expropriate surplus land.
Another option is the expropriation of land used for criminal purposes like the manufacturing of drugs. The conditions under which expropriation without com- pensation can work practically will no doubt bring about many more options for legislators and regulators to consider.
Meaningful participation and contribution to this process, especially the sharing of experiences and expertise, is critically important. With an already stated commitment to minimising disruption to the sector, cool heads are going to be needed if we are going to jointly build a land reform programme that ramps up transformation and development in a meaningful way and contributes to the sustainable growth of the sector.
LAND MATTERS: Koos Mthimkhulu inspects his crop at his farm in Senekal in the Eastern Free State.