In the land of promise

2012-07-14 09:58

The resolutions on land that came out of Polokwane in 2007 were always going to be tough to implement. Almost five years on, here is how things are panning out

The 2007 Polokwane conference resolutions had the air of a new broom about them, and those on land and agriculture were no exception.

Eight resolutions were taken:

1 The state must, with immediate effect, regulate but not prohibit ownership of land by non-South Africans.

This regulation should take into account the country’s commitment to land reform, restitution, redistribution and access to land.

Progress: Very little has happened “with immediate effect”. No regulation has taken place.

The discussion, fraught with danger in balancing local expectation with the need for direct foreign investment (not always directly linked to investment in land, but always very wary of security of assets from confiscation by the state) continues.

2 The state and mandated entities must exercise their legal right to expropriate property in the public interest for public purpose.

Compensation shall be awarded in accordance with the Constitution, with special emphasis on equity, redress and social justice.

All legislation pertaining to expropriation must be aligned with the Constitution.

Progress: Very little has happened. There are few examples of the state showing initiative by initiating expropriation.

3 We should discard the market-driven land reform and immediately review the principle of willing seller, willing buyer to accelerate the equitable distribution of land.

Progress: This resolution flows from the previous one and is underpinned by it. It was confirmed at the National General Council in Durban and the policy conference in Midrand.

4 Review the adequacy of post-settlement support in all land reform programmes.

Progress: Agreement has been reached that the post-settlement support was indeed inadequate. Some improvements have been made.
5 The management and control of state land must be under one department.

Progress: This was always going to be a legal and administrative minefield. Easier said than done. And not done yet.

6 We reaffirm the 51st conference resolution on a land audit and resolve that it should be conducted within the next 18 months.

Progress: A crucial lack of progress. In his closing address at Midrand, President Jacob Zuma referred to an “audit of state land”. This is an important change.

7 The allocation of customary land to be democratised and should not only be the preserve of traditional leaders.

Progress: Slow. Much help and hope for communities on communal land, though, through the Masibambisane initiative to enhance rural food production.

8 That redundant land belonging to state-owned enterprises and municipalities be transferred for low-cost housing.

Progress: A noble idea. Hard to execute. Lots of legal knots to untangle. Progress very slow.

As can be gathered from the above, Polokwane’s mandate has been a tough one.

One of the most tangible positive results since then has been the creation of a single, dedicated department of rural development and land reform under minister Gugile Nkwinti.

This department has done the groundwork for more effective, faster and less corrupt land redistribution by ending the outsourcing of the process, and instead having it carried out by dedicated departmental staff.

The key focus in land reform is the stated goal to have 30% of the land owned by black South Africans.

This cannot conceivably be done unless the Polokwane resolution regarding a land audit is implemented, because without a land audit no one knows who owns what.

How do you measure progress without information? Knowledge is power, and the lack of it opens the door to opportunism.

Nkwinti’s wise chairmanship of the relevant commission in Midrand defused a potentially volatile move to resurrect the proposal to nationalise land.

However, the spectre of nationalisation will remain as long as the state is unable to measure progress in black land ownership.

One of the biggest challenges the department of rural development and land reform has identified to the relevant parliamentary portfolio committee in measuring (not to mention reaching!) its 30% target is that the deeds office no longer records land ownership in terms of race, given the nonracial pretext of our Constitution.

This means that a database is genuinely and urgently needed.

It is clear from the lack of progress since 2007, and the president’s subtle changing of the goal to merely an audit of state land, that the land audit will not, under current circumstances, be finalised in time for the ANC Mangaung conference in December.

If anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, black land ownership through normal open-market land acquisition is substantial.

Maybe the time has come, in the interests of clarity, to fund an audit by one or two of the big trusted auditing firms to establish who owns what.

Private funding might be the answer, as it is less time-consuming than the state tender process.

If agreement on a universally trusted agency (such as an auditing firm) could be agreed upon, such a process could well be concluded
expeditiously in the national interest.

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