Guest Column

The magic of the land reform process

2018-08-24 09:13
Members of the public line up in Tzaneen, Limpopo, to participate in the public hearings into the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

Members of the public line up in Tzaneen, Limpopo, to participate in the public hearings into the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

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Elmien du Plessis

The past month I had numerous requests from people who wanted to have a "positive spin" on the land issue in South Africa. 

I am not a pop psychologist, but I do believe that if you make the effort to look for magic, you will find it. And in the ordinary, everyday South Africa one does not have to look too hard to find it. Even in this confusing and turbulent conversation on land reform, often branded by polarisation, there are moments that inspire hope and awe.

My recovery from a recent appendectomy gave me the time to watch many of the Constitutional Review Committee hearings on YouTube. One could probably write a story on how most white South Africans made the economic argument for the Constitution not to be changed, while most black South Africans spoke of how being without land affects their lives and that the Constitution should be changed in order to give them access to land. But there was something else going on – a process of deep democracy. 

I wonder how many people realised that Parliament had gone to the people, where ordinary South Africans had the opportunity to stand in front of various representatives of the legislature and make their voices heard. People with vastly different views – people who don't agree – were together in one room, all having to queue and patiently wait their turn to make their voices heard. And there was no civil war. 

In fact, the largest part of these hearings was marked with people patiently waiting to have their voices heard and witnessing their fellow citizens doing the same. I am not sure if we have not, regardless of the outcome, celebrated this part of the hearings enough. 

Grassroots organisations were having meetings before the hearings to find the most effective way to make their views heard, pinpointing the problems with the current process, and suggesting solutions. Having been privy to such meetings as well as the conversations of organised agriculture, I can say that there is more that binds us together than what pulls us apart.

The hearings proceeded with a process where any citizen could make a submission to Parliament on the expropriation question. Many citizens did and in 10 days' time, the committee, as representative or Parliament, will allow for oral submissions and engage in conversation with some of the people who made submissions. Imagine that!

I, as an ordinary citizen of my country, will stand in front of a democratically elected Parliament and be given a platform to voice what I think should happen to our Constitution. I will stand there with people who might hold vastly different views than I do but we will all be given a chance to speak.

Parallel to that, the public is tackling the land reform woes of the past 24 years head on, and civil society is starting to rise. While some might say belatedly so, organised agriculture is acknowledging that the historical injustices of the past must be addressed and is refining workable solutions on how it can play its part in facilitating orderly and meaningful land reform. AgriSA, together with Landbouweekblad, organised an inclusive land summit this week to start the conversation. 

The organisation is further making sure that its president, Dan Kriek, is having conversations on a way forward with the country's president and the leaders of other organisations talk to top government leaders. The respective parties walk out of these meetings, not with unrealistic expectations, but feeling encouraged about the future that we, the people of South Africa, want to build. 

There is value in such a process, regardless of the outcome. Kriek, a third-generation farmer himself, wants organised agriculture to focus on a long-term, lasting solution, despite probably also struggling with the drought, despite also feeling the impact of crime, and despite probably also being frustrated about not having a definite guarantee that things in will be OK in the end. 

We are also having conversations on various levels of society where we are laying down boundaries, finding common ground and having damn hard and uncomfortable conversations, but where we are also imagining the future South Africa that not only we, but also our children, can grow up in. 

Yes, it is muddy and messy sometimes. But it is our mud, and our mess, and we should not detract from the process we are busy with at the behest of a leader who seems to base his foreign policy on factually untrue news reports

From all the calls I received for interviews I gather that people are looking for hope. And it is possible to find it. Without lying or being blind to the realities. Of course, we cannot control or predict the outcome, and it would be just as dishonest of me to say "things will be OK" or even that things are ok. There is a great deal of uncertainty and that generates a great amount of fear. But, as Friedrich Nietzsche would say, "[w]hoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." 

In a world that is outcome based, maybe we can for today stop and honour the magic moments of the imperfect process itself, and realise that we do have a margin of control over the process. Maybe in this process, we can rather make choices that will facilitate the weaving of the social fabric of our society, sometimes stopping to take a break, but always, always returning to walk the path to the best possible future for all. 

We as South Africans can sometimes be self-deprecating to the point where we forget that we have time and time again pushed ourselves to the edge of the abyss, stared at it, but always managed to pull back and make this country work. I am not blind to the fact that we might be at that abyss again, but I see my fellow South Africans, all 55 million, and especially my colleagues working on land issues.  

I see a moment where what may be perceived as chaos has loosened the knot that is land reform, and provides us with an opportunity to not only imagine the future we want, but to also make plans on how to attain it. Because not addressing it, is not an option.

In this process no local or international leader will make me believe that most of my fellow South Africans are not committed to make South Africa work for all of us. A luta.

- Elmien du Plessis is associate professor in Law at the North-West University.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    dan kriek  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  land  |  land hearings  |  land expropiation
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