Max du Preez

Land reform 'too slow'

2008-09-03 07:59

Max du Preez

There are two conspiracy theories doing the rounds right now regarding the government and the tricky land reform question.

The one is that the ANC is deliberately dragging its feet with land redistribution. The theory goes that thumping the land drum is always a good way of mobilising support among the majority voters in times of dissent.

The other theory is that the ANC never intended for the Land Expropriation Bill, now "temporarily" shelved, to become law. But it served as a sop to its own constituency demanding punitive steps against white landowners, while at the same time giving the ANC something to be gracious about and give up when big business pressured it.

There may well be truth in either or both theories. All I know is that the government's real land agenda is very murky. Keeping the land issue on the back burner until needed as a mobilisation issue certainly worked for Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

The reports that many of the fires that destroyed so much grazing the past week in the summer rainfall areas were started by people who are getting impatient with government's slow reaction to demands for land must make us all sit up and worry.

Lack of progress

What is not a theory but hard fact is that the lack of progress with land redistribution is not the fault of commercial farmers. The blame should but squarely at the door of a corrupt, inept and lazy bureaucracy and a lack of political will.

There are many, many examples of white farmers who are either desperate to sell their land to the state, or have been told that the state wanted to buy their land but nothing happened after that.

Many experts have shown that state-owned land, land seized by the Land Bank because of bankruptcy and land already put up for sale by struggling farmers are more than enough to satisfy the land hunger of the landless for years to come.

Instead the ANC has allowed the whole land issue to simmer, well knowing it is one of the most emotive questions in our country. Commercial farmers are jittery and paranoid; the landless are threatening land invasions; ordinary citizens are getting worked up because of the perceived injustice of it all.

But I also suspect that a part of the reason for the slow pace of land reform is a lack of political courage.

Unpopular things

For the process to be really successful, a few very unpopular things have to be stated in no uncertain terms. And the ANC and government will have to say those things.

Firstly, that ownership of agricultural land is not a natural right all South Africans, even all black South Africans, have. There are good arguments for older, more traditional folk to be given patches of land just to produce enough food for themselves, but South Africa cannot afford millions of hectares of productive agricultural land to be used for subsistence farming. We need all productive land to produce food, jobs and foreign currency.

Secondly, that South Africa cannot afford to drive successful farmers of their land. It will not only be unfair, it will breed instability, undermine the economy and create more unemployment.

Thirdly, that those emerging black farmers who get agricultural land, will eventually have to operate financially sound concerns. They need lots of help to start off with, but then they need to get on with it.

If we can organise a Soccer World Cup, surely we can run a successful land reform programme?

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