Land Anger

2009-04-23 00:00

The no-land-no-vote stance by the Abahlali Basemaplazini (farm dwellers) led by the Landless People's Movement was a national response to the government's meddling in the land process. Recently, the Abahlali Basemjondolo extended this to no land, no house, no vote.

These groups and their sympathisers nationwide have been accused of rabble-rousing and being against progress and peace. Just a cursory glance at the confusion in land reform and the coherent manner in which agricultural support for beneficiaries is proceeding will show that in fact, as long as the government continues to meddle, such actions will intensify. As these groups become more organised and sophisticated, this could be the basis for a real organic rural voice that can become an alternative to the empty agro-populist political positions espoused in the election manifestos we have seen around.

Rural communities are still receiving nothing more than lip service to their problems, while rural development issues have continued to be the basis for political profile-building by those in office.

The numerous workshops and conferences in the name of rural people have been about rural issues only in name. The participants are largely the politicians, academics and everyone else but the rural communities. The outcomes of these processes entrench elitist processes that continue to marginalise the rural poor. The government is now fixated with group reform, under Communal Property Institutions (CPO that are based on the erroneous idea that there is a homogeneous community out there that could receive a block of land and continue to farm it as such and this on a commercial basis. A careful consideration of rural society would show that the multiplicity of centres of power and contestations of authority and legitimacy pulling in various directions make this a pipe dream.. As such, many farms bought and transferred to these CPI legal entities have remained unused. as much energy and capital are spent trying to resolve these issues.

The worst of the recent developments in the land and agrarian sector is the ill-considered application of black economic empowerment (BEE) and affirmative action policies. In one with the national narrative around the building of a black African bourgeoisie, the land and agricultural sector have become a playground for the black elite who are dependent on state hand-outs. They generally lack the capacity to break into the traditional commercial, manufacturing and service industry still dominated by large-scale white capital. It is for this reason that the rural sector has become the alternative conduit for black embourgeoisiement. This BEE model is very limited, elitist and based on cronyism, benefiting mainly those with links to the ruling party and the government.

This has resulted in a long list of government officials (whether at provincial or national level) who own farms or whose wives own farms. Many of these are "telephone farmers", as they keep their high-paying jobs in the government, in the private sector or in their own companies. Truly, there must be something wrong with a society where some people have a linger in every pie, others have nothing at all.

The immorality of this scenario is made worse by leaders who hold on to farms that are under land claim by poor families. We also know of heavyweights who have hijacked inputs meant for poor families diverting them to their own farms. Surely, the situation where people use their office and position to acquire economic resources cannot be considered. as an entrepreneurial model?

The no-laud-no-vote campaign was necessitated by these processes that have left poor communities more impoverished. Without land, people cannot receive their full citizen rights in the form of fundamental services such as water, education, health, electricity, roads and soforth.

A BEE farming concern called Nomalanga in the Greytown district has recently been subject to a march by the Shayizandla and Goudina farm-dweller communities.

Nomalanga leases and runs more than half-a-dozen farms and is paid caretaker fees by the Department of Land M Affairs (DLA) on land that should have been 1l'ansferred to the farm dwellers.

Some of the lease agreements between these BEE farms and the communities have been forced on the communities by DIA officials in collusion with their elite friends. This practice explains some of the lack ofproductionon the farms. Yet the response of Land Minister Lulu XIngwana has been a blanket "use-it-or-lose-it- policy that blames the victims for the department's bureaucratic bungling. It is time all self-respecting South Africans start applying their minds to these processes and support the faint voice of the poor, rather than vilify them.

- Blessing KaNmbidza is director or the Association tor Rural Advancement (Afra) and Nokuthula Mthlmunye Is a communication Intern for Afra.

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