Delving into the faultlines of society

2008-04-13 00:00

The dynamics of race, land and its ownership are the faultlines of South African society.

Deeply politicised, matters of land and race are indelibly inscribed in our consciousness — past, present and future — and make an easy target for politicians.

Perhaps that explains the vitriol emanating in the wake of the controversial Expropriation Bill, which was met by a barrage of criticism.

Its very premise, it was pointed out, is flawed. It was conceived as a means to expedite land reform, but no one in government has taken the trouble to investigate the grassroots reality of indeterminate delays, alleged official rectitude, inadequate financing, poor skilling, a shortage of willing and able mentors, and lately, poorly performing enterprises in the hands of new owners.

At issue is land and not politics.

Or, as Kwanalu president Robin Barnsley pointed out, experience in other countries has shown that expropriation does not speed up land reform significantly, nor does it make land reform more affordable.

Saying expropriation is a measure of last resort, and when deployed, should be perceived by all to be a fair and transparent, Barnsley said it means current landowners should receive adequate compensation.

This should enable them to start anew somewhere else, but herein lies the nub, in that objections to the deemed value of a property will not be entertained until after the order of alienation has been signed and concluded.

Of great concern is that the expropriating authority is explicitly barred from considering market value of the property as a measure.

These issues, Barnsley said, create uncertainty and suspicion, especially as the bill seems inordinately wide in its scope.

"While it was phrased to include the right to property, it is not limited to land, and specifically not rural land, and extended to movable property," he said.

Strange too, is the fact that the expropriated land may be used for a purpose different to its previous use.

"This implies that farm land could be expropriated for large-scale housing developments, if such developments were deemed to be in the public interest," he said.

For good measure, throw in the thorny question of food security and an urgent need for improved agricultural productivity, and one has to wonder about the calibre of decision-makers to cook up a lemon like the Expropriation Bill.

As Barnsley said, the solution is not throwing ill-gotten land at the problem, but better implementation of land reform programmes through public-private partnerships.

Oil crunch

A snippet last week about the rise in fuel prices elicited a response that painted an even more despairing picture of declining resources and soaring commodity prices.

It was pointed out that a barrel of oil cost U.S.$52 in 2005, and that the price in fact doubled over a three-year period. Also consider that the price of a barrel was a mere U.S.$14 in 1998, and that the trend has been relentlessly upwards since then.

Banking expectations

ABSA Bank has been courting all and sundry, presumably in a bid to boost market share. These approaches typically take the form of sponsorships in one guise or another, and we’d like to know how the efficacy of its spending is measured.

While some initiatives are clearly developmental, as in the case of the Absa Women’s Empowerment Desk at the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business,which is fulfilling a valuable role, others are less clear-cut.

One such tie-up is with a taxi association in Durban where the terms of reference were clearly not properly communicated. According to a member of the association’s leadership, the deal includes special treatment for its membership, and employment for the children of its members.

Merry safari

Those fortunate to have been involved in the inaugural food, drink and be merry safari hosted by Pesto, Butchery and Saki will be pleased to know that this year’s venture takes place on Wednesday.

The theme is sport and we’re keen to see who proclaims what as they make their way between the eateries to indulge in what promises to be another gastronomical highlight.

Bring and plant

The initiative to upgrade the Bridge Road area in Mayor’s Walk is without doubt one of the city’s successful community stories. Progress is steaming forth with a number of individuals and families contributing their time and effort to clean up the stream and establish indigenous vegetation on the banks.

To this end, a mass planting on Saturday afternoon of Dietes grandiflora is planned and donations of these plants are welcomed. But it’s not all work: in the evening, interested and affected residents and a bevy of supporters will gather around braai fires to assess progress.

Water wise

Still on matters green, there are encouraging signs of a new appreciation of the importance of groundwater. Permeable paving is gaining favour among progressive designers and landscapers as a means to return water to the ground.

There are a few ground rules, but in principle it is about letting water back into the soil through openings, and the use of appropriate materials. It is also a far cry from the tar and concrete brigade that slaps on the stuff over anything that approximates soil and grass.

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