Let’s hear each other to eliminate unjust land rights

2018-03-18 06:03
Kholofelo Maponya

Kholofelo Maponya

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Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Maite Nkoana- Mashabane’s admission recently that land reform has failed black South Africans and must be intensified and accelerated, is a great start to her tenure.

More than 80% of the South African population, read black people, own a mere 4% of the land. Nkoana-Mashabane asked if it is appropriate for R50bn to have been spent on land reform, only for it to have delivered 4% of the land to the majority.

“The land must be returned to its rightful owners,” she said.

“The recent passing of a motion in Parliament to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation is an important step towards this long overdue process of a greater and accelerated restitution and redistribution of our land.”

I view all this through the lens of a third-generation farmer and businessman. From just over 10 years of age, I can recall cleaning our family poultry farm or my parents’ butchery. Land has been synonymous with the value one can derive from it.

Since those early days of my life in the mid-1980s, to the rescuing of Daybreak Farms from closure, land is not an end but a means to true economic emancipation.

As one vital factor of production, however, nothing can happen until and unless land rights are restored to the rightful owners.

Land is dignity and one’s ability to sustain oneself. Our overreliance on the Constitution, protecting property rights acquired unjustly and the prohibitive cost of buying land back, have stalled essential development of an inclusive economy – a key ingredient of political stability and peace.

Having been brought up by an independent woman entrepreneur, what the minister is saying goes beyond rural development or land reform on a theoretical level.

It signifies the ability of black South African women to do that which they do best, given the means: feed themselves, their families and communities.

Our Constitution, as great as it is, has not been tested on its ability to bring about justice to black people dispossessed of their land.

The motion takes us closer to finding out just how much political will there is out there to forge a better economic destiny for our people.

The minister articulated it more decisively at the dinner: “Let us work towards true gender equality; let us eradicate poverty, not alleviate it; let us make inequality history.”

Land reform is only the beginning, though. My experience in establishing and running businesses that are anchored on land rights, agriculture and property, taught me that owning land is not going to make your business successful because there are other, subtle obstacles to navigate.

These include the inability of black farmers to acquire appropriate technology to produce efficiently. Efficiency in production makes one cost-competitive.

The recent dumping of Brazilian chickens on our shores is a case in point. Besides merely being cost-competitive, those who are dumping agricultural produce on us have not only their low production costs to thank for their success. They are the beneficiaries of the indecision of our government to protect local farmers and break down the racial divide of the business community in South Africa.

White and black businesses can do much better to collaborate in order to eliminate the persistent marginalisation of black businesses.

State-owned enterprises, including development finance institutions, must afford black business the same level of respect they give white business.

Big business and structures that represent women in agrarian communities had to be included, because if land reform is to mean anything, they should benefit directly because women have always worked the land they do not own.

So, in order to succeed in breathing new life into the department of rural development and land reform, to promote sustainable livelihoods for black South Africans – especially women – Minister Nkoana-Mashabane has more to do. She ought to strategically work with her fellow Cabinet members to create a dispensation that prioritises authentic black participation: from government procurement to policy reform and strategic partnerships with business to advance black participation.

The answers are there, among and in all of us, if we are willing to work together. As for the expropriation of land without compensation and the minister’s intention to intensify agrarian reform, it is our responsibility, as leaders of our respective constituencies, not to panic; but to actively display a willingness to hear one another for the elimination of unjust land rights. It is a win-win proposition.

- Maponya is a farmer and a businessman.

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