Weekend Post (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - BEN COUSINS ý Cousins is pro­fes­sor, poverty, land and agrar­ian stud­ies, Univer­sity of the Western Cape

SOUTH Africa’s par­lia­ment has passed a res­o­lu­tion to amend the con­sti­tu­tion and al­low ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

The de­ci­sion has gen­er­ated a storm of gi­gan­tic pro­por­tions as po­lit­i­cal par­ties, cit­i­zens, white farm­ers and com­men­ta­tors an­tic­i­pate ei­ther the mo­ment of sal­va­tion (“real land re­form at last!”) or disas­ter (“the col­lapse of the mar­ket econ­omy!”).

Sadly, few con­tri­bu­tions to the pub­lic de­bate are in­formed by the avail­able ev­i­dence. And poorly in­formed com­men­ta­tors of­ten mis­rep­re­sent the is­sues. 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.

South Africa’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.

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 gov­ern­ment re­port­ing that, so far, around 9% of com­mer­cial farm­land has been trans­ferred through resti­tu­tion and re­dis­tri­bu­tion. Ten­ure re- form has been re­mark­ably in­ef­fec­tive, with many as in­se­cure as ever.

But, in re­al­ity, there is only the hazi­est of un­der­stand­ing of how well or how badly re­form is do­ing, and why.

The woe­ful record- keep­ing of na­tional and lo­cal gov­ern­ment de­part­ments is partly to blame. But they are not the sole cul­prits. 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 – cur­rently those with a min­i­mum turnover of R1-mil­lion. Stat­sSA agri­cul­tural re­ports don’t dis­tin­guish farms by size or value of out­put. Of­fi­cial sur­vey data on small­holder farm­ing are also thin and even less use­ful.

In gen­eral, the lack of ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion al­lows much of the pub­lic de­bate to be mis­in­formed.

No­body knows how much agri­cul­tural land has been pri­vately pur­chased by black farm­ers and how much ac­quired via land re­form.

Con­sider two land au­dits re­leased in re­cent months, one by agri­cul­tural lobby group AgriSA and the other by the gov­ern­ment. Both are based on anal­y­sis of in­for­ma­tion from ti­tle deeds in the na­tional registry.

The AgriSA land 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 much more ef­fec­tive at trans­fer­ring land than the state. But the mar­ket is not re­dis­tribut­ing land to black peo­ple to the ex­tent AgriSA claims.

Its method­ol­ogy and most of its con­clu­sions are fun­da­men­tally 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, gov­ern­ment has pro­vided funds and served as an in­ter­me­di­ary. So they were not pri­vate trans­ac­tions.

Gov­ern­ment’s lat­est land au­dit is also not par­tic­u­larly 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, trust 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.

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.

Of­fi­cial data, al­though in­ad­e­quate, do 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.

The great ma­jor­ity of ru­ral claims have opted for restora­tion.

An­other mis­con­cep­tion is that land re­form can in­volve the re­dis­tri­bu­tion of state-owned land. The re- al­ity 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 con­firms this, and shows that state land com­prises only 18% of the to­tal.

The sin­gle most mis­lead­ing “fact” end­lessly re­peated in the me­dia 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 to a de­gree.

How to ac­quire and trans­fer land, the fo­cus of much cur­rent 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.

Larger chal­lenges in­volve tar­get­ing ben­e­fi­cia­ries, iden­ti­fy­ing well-lo­cated land, en­sur­ing that wa­ter is re­al­lo­cated along with land, ef­fec­tive district-based plan­ning and en­abling small-scale eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in both ru­ral and ur­ban spa­ces.

Much of the cur­rent com­men­tary on land pol­icy is ill-in­formed and fails to iden­tify these chal­lenges.

More im­por­tant, the lack of ro­bust of­fi­cial data on land and agri­cul­ture is a key prob­lem that must surely be high on the agenda of the new pres­i­dent.

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