Recipe for disaster

2008-07-07 00:00

As an experienced and well-informed advocate of the land rights of dispossessed people, Mary de Haas has credentials that lend solid weight to her critique of the proposed Expropriation Bill. Her criticism is comprehensive and incisive. The measures are too broad-reaching and too vaguely defined. They assign powers to the executive that are neither transparent nor democratic. Far from redressing past wrongs and enabling the fair and equitable redistribution of land, the Bill in its present form will exacerbate existing problems and tensions, allow corrupt opportunists to make illegitimate claims, encourage land invasions and spark a right-wing reaction to them, and have “potentially disastrous” consequences for race relations, human rights and the stability of the country.

That the government is eager to move forward with the redistribution of land is understandable. The racist Land Act of 1913 lies at the root of much of the inequity and injustice that has followed, and the government’s own political constituency is becoming increasingly impatient at the lack of discernible change since the ending of apartheid. Something more needs to be done, and speedily. Inaction is as likely to lead to unrest as is the wrong action.

However, as the De Haas submission observes, the action proposed in this Bill is both misguided and unnecessary. The existing legislation is perfectly adequate. The problem is that it is being so very badly administered. It is not the reactionary reluctance of present owners that stands in the way of land transfers but the inefficiency of departmental staff. Incompetence and corruption go unchecked at the understaffed Department of Land Affairs, and invalid claims are approved despite being completely spurious.

The threat of unnecessary and unjustified expropriations is a nightmare not just for legitimate land owners but for all South Africans. There is a clear link between the abuse of land tenure and the problems plaguing Zimbabwe. This government already has the mechanisms it needs to achieve a resolution of the land problem. Rather than toy with ill-considered new measures, it needs to sort out its own department and employ civil servants who are competent, efficient, reliable and honest.

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