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One of the many strengths of President Ramaphosa's land panel report is that it does not shy away from the corruption, patronage and nepotism that have often dogged post-apartheid land reform, writes Jeremy Cronin.
The excellent and very timely 144-page report of President
Ramaphosa's advisory panel on land reform and agriculture has just been
released. It reminds us of the urgency and constitutional imperative of land
reform. Anyone who cares about our country and its future should read the
Its publication coincided with another week of sobering
disclosures at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. The focus of
the commission happened to be on the Free State provincial government's notorious
Estina dairy farm project. It's a case of state capture masquerading under the
cloak of land reform.
There were revelations of hundreds of thousands of rands
worth of looting, and of the probable diversion of public funds to a Gupta
wedding party. Especially heart-wrenching were the accounts of the disdainful
mistreatment and marginalisation of the small-scale black farmers who were
supposed to be the actual beneficiaries of the project.
One of the many strengths of Ramaphosa's expert panel report
is that it does not shy away from the corruption, patronage and nepotism that
have often dogged supposed, post-apartheid land reform in South Africa. The
report flags market opportunism, bribery, land-price manipulation, fronting,
the meddling of government officials and politicians, and unaccountable and
illicit transactions on communal land in the former homelands. Government
officials, politicians, traditional leaders, and business-people are all
involved. The Estina dairy farm is, perhaps, the tip of an ice-berg.
However, the real strength of the advisory panel's report is
that its diagnosis of the challenges is not restricted to the problems of
malfeasance and ineptitude. If anything, it locates these within a broader set
of issues – the lack of a clear and over-arching land reform policy, and major
institutional and legislative gaps. Twenty-five years of tinkering, it states, have
The report reminds of us of some stark fundamentals: 83% of
urban and peri-urban dwellers reside on 2% of the land. We have a globally
competitive agriculture sector and we export food, achievements that the panel
seeks to sustain and improve. But 41,6% of rural people and 59,4% of South
Africans in urban areas have severely inadequate access to food. We have an
advanced property registry system which is wholly inadequate to the actual
needs of the majority, with 60% of South Africans' land and property rights not
recorded or registered.
Among the many important recommendations is greater
legislative emphasis on land redistribution, and not just land restitution. The
report calls for clear policy on the principal target groups. Land reform
cannot be a Zimbabwe (or Estina) land grab for the politically connected.
Particular emphasis is placed on the food insecure in both
urban and rural areas, with special attention to what the report calls "agricultural
households". A Stats SA 2016 survey estimates some 2,3 million such
households, with 47% of them led by women, with 84% saying their backyard is
the main place of agricultural activity, and 44% saying farming is their main
source of food. The report is categorical: A narrow BEE approach to land
reform, at least on its own, will not reverse the systemic reproduction of
racialised and gendered poverty and inequality.
There is, of course, much more in the report, including the
important proposal of a fourth pillar to land reform, namely land
administration, alongside restitution, redistribution and tenure security.
In our current South Africa reality, what is especially
encouraging is the diversity of the panel, drawn from a representative array of
experts, academics, practising farmers both white and black, lawyers
specialising in land reform, an agricultural economist with the Agricultural
Business Chamber, and the president of AgriSA. It is an example of a
cross-section of South Africans working together to diagnose the challenges and
to map out a much more effective policy and key institutional interventions.
This report stands as an excellent counter to political parties, factional
interests and narrow lobby groups.
Of course, there was not absolute unanimity on every issue. Two
of the panellists disagreed with suggestions on amending the property clause
(which was part of the mandate of the panel). In practice, however, the
recommendations imply minor adjustments to the property clause, in effect
making explicit what is already implicit in Section 25 of the Bill of Rights,
namely that nil compensation might be just and equitable in certain cases of
expropriation of land in the public interest – for example, abandoned land.
There was also a minority disagreement about the
advisability of not allowing for free-hold in the former homelands. A majority
felt, correctly in my view, that turning communal land ownership into alienable
private property would further deepen poverty and inequality in these areas.
But these differences should not be allowed to overwhelm the
major strategic coherence in the report. Cabinet has two months to consider the
report. I trust that it will heed the wise words of the report concerning the "urgency
and constitutional imperative of land reform" which must "not be
taken lightly nor postponed".
- Cronin is a member of the SACP's central committee, and a former member of the ANC's national executive committee. He was a deputy minister between 2012 and 2019. His first collection of poems, Inside, was released to much acclaim after his release from prison in 1984.
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