Max du Preez

ANC needs to focus on urban development

2015-03-10 07:55

Max du Preez

One of the best indications that the ANC is still caught up in liberation movement mode is its attitude towards land ownership.

In a speech to the National House of Traditional leaders last week, President Jacob Zuma could find no-one more recent to quote on the issue of agricultural land than the ANC president of the 1940s, Dr AB Xuma. This was the quote, from 1941: “The fundamental basis of all wealth and power is the ownership and acquisition of freehold title to land. From land, we derive our existence.”

When Xuma made this statement, only about a quarter of South Africans were urbanised. Today about two-thirds live in cities. Gauteng’s population grew by 34% just in the last decade.

Repeated surveys have shown that very, very few of South Africa’s about 35 million urban people want agricultural land. They want a stand with a decent house – and better jobs, better services, a higher disposable income and better education for their children.

Emotion and symbolism

But the ANC’s focus remains on farmland. That’s where all the emotion and symbolism lie. Taking the land back has been the primary slogan of every liberation movement in sub-Sahara Africa.

The result is that the ANC governments since 1994 never really developed proper strategies for urbanisation and urban development. Even the ANC’s 2014 election manifesto emphasised rural development.

The result is that many millions of people in 2015 live in dire circumstances in badly developed townships and squatter camps. These places of residence are often very far from the workplace, but no proper provision was ever made for those who have to commute to work. Consequently, many people spend several hours every day travelling to and from work – unproductive, often unpleasant and even dangerous hours.

The result is very unhappy and unhealthy communities fighting for their dignity. For every one protest action over agricultural land or poor rural conditions, there are several thousand protests against poor service delivery or lack of land in townships and squatter camps, many of them violent.

Almost every city or large town in the country has had at least one incidence of illegal occupation of urban in land the last year. Farm invasions happen very rarely.

Quality of life

So, if there is a threat to our stability, if there is indeed a revolution brewing, it would be about the quality of life of those who live in cities and towns: residential land, houses, services, transport, hospitals, job opportunities. Not because most agriculturalists are still white.

It is significant that the Economic Freedom Fighters that has land redistribution as one of its top priorities, has never encouraged its members to illegally occupy commercial farms. It is, though, telling its supporters to occupy vacant land in cities and towns without permission.

This doesn’t mean that land reform – the empowerment of a new generation of black agriculturalists on farms – is not also critically important. It is, and as I was reminded last week when I attended the annual congress of Grain SA, organised agriculture realises that full well. They are fully prepared to be an active partner in this process, but then government will have to start working with them rather than use them as a political punching bag.

Even when land reform eventually takes off, which it sadly hasn’t yet, the new generation black farmers won’t be able to make a significant contribution to economic growth or even food security for some years to come.

The redistribution of land and the training and support of new farmers are very costly processes and in most cases it takes years for a newly established farmer to become commercially successful.

Our hope for growth and development – and thus stability and peace – will have to be our urban populations. It is in the cities that we can fight poverty, unemployment and inequality most successfully.

It is easier and cheaper to house people in concentrated urban environments, to supply them with services, education and training. It is also where most job opportunities are.

Refocus attention

South Africa needs to urgently refocus its attention on urban development. Urbanisation can’t and won’t be stemmed.

Provincial and local authorities should be pushed to make much more land available for housing, and not only on the extreme boundaries of urban settlements. Younger people, for instance, can be housed in higher density settlements, even blocks of flats. Green spaces, sports fields, spaces for religious and cultural activities and rapid rail or bus transport services should be part of the planning.

If we quench the thirst for land for urban settlement, we will buy more time to manage agricultural reform properly – and take the heat out of the land debate.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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Read more on:    anc  |  eff  |  jacob zuma
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