Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Don't expect honest policy discussions from the ANC

2017-06-30 09:26

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In May 1992, exactly two years before the ANC took over power, it held a policy conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg.

Up for discussion was, among other things, a document containing “policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa”.

The confidential draft version of the document listed interesting land reform guidelines which were never implemented.

The 2017 policy document on economic transformation says very little about land reform. And it does not take the land reform debate beyond the populist noise.

The failure to provide an honest assessment of why old ideas were not converted to implementable policies shows that the ANC has lost the capacity to think.

Some party leaders attending the policy conference know nothing about the 1992 guidelines which eventually informed the current constitutional provisions. This explains why they are disowning the provisions.

The Bell Pottingerists, famous for their howling, wouldn’t know or care about it. Their masters, the Guptas, who are illegally co-governing with the ANC, hadn’t bought their flight tickets from India to South Africa when the ANC conference took place 25 years ago.

The guidelines document proposed that the ANC should urgently deal with the apartheid legacy of forced removals and dispossessions while improving the productivity of the land. It made some balanced observations about land ownership.

“The land question is a question that affects not just the landholders and the landless, but the whole nation. All South Africans have a responsibility to share the burden of resolving it,” it said.

“While the market has some role to play, it will barely touch the problem. The very [racial] discrimination which forced the people off the land has deprived them of the capacity to buy the land back. The market could even aggravate present inequalities.”

The document proposed a variety of policies to solve the problem. It said: “In establishing an equitable balance between the legitimate interests of the present title holders and the legitimate needs of those without land and shelter, compensation by the state in the national interest will have an important role to play.”

It further said: “It will be unjust to place the whole burden of the costs of transformation on the shoulders either of the present generation of title holders or on the new generation of owners.”

Then came the solution: the need to establish a special Land Fund to ensure just and appropriate compensation for title holders who lose out economically because of redistribution.

“We believe that the criteria for calculating compensation and its terms should be equitable and appropriate in the circumstances including the means of state and the Land Fund, and they should be laid down in advance in legislation.”

The state, the document said, would have the power to expropriate land in the public interest with just compensation.

“The state would use policy instruments including the removal of state subsidies enjoyed by white farmers to free land for redistribution. In the case of any dispute, the courts should have the last word, but without delaying the land reform programme.” 

Mindful of the difficulties that would arise to finance the Land Fund, the drafters of the document proposed the concept of “burden equalisation” by way of introducing a special tax.

The document emphasised that the programme of redistribution of agricultural land would be accompanied by measures to ensure that the land was productive.

“These must include the provision of adequate infrastructure as well as training and appropriate extension work.”

Since 1994, when the ANC government came to power, land reform has almost stalled. The only areas where progress has been made are on land tenure reform as well as worker rights.

But redistribution of land to black people has failed dismally because there was never a proper, well-capitalised Land Fund. And no special tax was levied to finance it even when the economy was growing. It would be unwise to think about it now while the economy is in recession and the public has lost trust in government's ability to look after public money.

An opportunity was missed. Instead, redistribution mechanisms of the government focused on social grants, rather than the productive economy which would have been a more sustainable way of eliminating poverty among black people.

The black empowerment fund that was housed within the Land Bank was looted. (As I write this, it has emerged that Ace Magashule’s government in the Free State gifted the Guptas millions of rands laundered from a dairy project to Dubai and back to South Africa to fund a wedding. The money was siphoned off under the guise of black empowerment.)

A valuer-general, whose duty is to provide an objective evaluation of land earmarked for restitution, was only appointed in 2015.

There is no post-settlement support to the few black people who have benefitted from the land reform process. This has led to the collapse of many agricultural enterprises run by beneficiaries of land reform.

While politicians who have run out of policy ideas are busy shouting populist slogans, the Land Bank is now trying to recapitalise farms which were left lying fallow.

There has been no discussion about reviving the agricultural colleges that have collapsed. And a comprehensive land audit and agricultural skills audit among black people hasn’t been done.

The 2017 economic transformation discussion document has a few paragraphs on land reform. It argues that Parliament must pass updated expropriation legislation. While compensation would be paid, agreement on what is fair compensation should not be a pre-condition for redistribution, it says.

The document says success of land redistribution will be improved if there is greater oversight over land, farming equipment and skills transfer. This is pure spin. The truth is, there's no "success" to be "improved". There is a litany of failures to be corrected.

The document says investment is required in irrigation infrastructure and allocation of water rights. But it doesn’t say why all of these haven’t happened so far. So, 25 years later, the ANC returns to Nasrec to discuss policies without an honest assessment of the cause of failures.

Perhaps in this age of "crass dishonesty", to borrow a phrase from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, it would be foolish to expect an honest assessment of policy failures.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria.

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Read more on:    land reform  |  ancpolicy17  |  politics  |  ancpolicy
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