We must all be involved in the land debate

2018-03-18 06:03
Acting CEO OF Government Communication & Information System Phumla Williams

Acting CEO OF Government Communication & Information System Phumla Williams

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The decision by the National Assembly to adopt a motion to amend the Constitution, to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, has drawn mixed reaction. This is hardly surprising given the multitude of constituents in South Africa.

For some, this decision reaffirms that action will be taken to address various historical injustices, while others have expressed concern over the potential erosion of property rights.

These and other questions will be better answered over the coming months by the constitutional review committee, which will host a series of public hearings on the proposed amendment. It will provide a recommendation to the National Assembly by the end of August.

Government invites all people and all stakeholders to make input into the process. We are a listening and people-centred government which remains committed to engage all stakeholders during this process. Through dialogue, discussion and engagement, we will arrive at solutions that will take our country forward.

It is important that discussions on land are not viewed in isolation. Government’s starting point has always been to address the painful legacy of the past by ensuring a land restitution and redistribution process which supports agricultural production and investments in the land.

The discussion on land should be viewed as a correction of an historical injustice, which can unite the nation. The painful legacy of land dispossession has been part of our history for generations.

Over the centuries, thousands of black people were forcibly removed from their land by various discriminatory laws, policies and practices enacted by colonialist and imperialist governments.

Furthermore, the promulgation of the 1913 Natives Land Act set in motion a process that stripped thousands of people of their land, homes, livelihood and dignity.

The legacy of these vile actions is visible everywhere across our nation. Many black South Africans still live far from centres of commerce and industry due to apartheid spatial planning.

We live in one of the most unequal societies in the world and the question of access to property and land still lingers.

When the first democratic government assumed office in 1994, it identified the need for land and agrarian reform as part of national reconciliation. This process has been ongoing since then and has resulted in small shifts in land ownership patterns. However, the pace of change has been slow and more still needs to be done.

The Land Audit Report, released last November, shows that 114 223 276 hectares or 94% of 121 924 881ha of land in the country is registered in the Deeds Office. It shows that individuals, companies, and trusts own 89 523 044ha of the registered land.

The audit further reveals that whites own the majority of the land at 72%, and Africans only 4%.

Given this glaring disparity, there can be no argument about the need for greater and more inclusive land reform.

Government is confident that the parliamentary process will ensure that we arrive at a negotiated and fair land restitution process which can further grow our economy, increase agricultural production and lead to greater food security.

It is in South Africa’s interests to have commercial farmers. This process can ensure that we have even greater numbers of successful commercial farmers.

Government calls on South Africans to embrace this process and become part of the solutions which will take our nation forward. There is no need to fear democratic processes which are guided by the Constitution. We invite individuals, groups and bodies who are apprehensive about this process to join in the dialogue.

Since the dawn of democracy we have shown the world that we are a nation willing to find solutions that benefit all citizens. This ethos continues to guide all we do, and South Africans are assured that government will at all times abide by the law and the Constitution.

South Africa remains open for business and investments in agriculture and farming are welcomed and remain safe. We are committed to a fair and sustainable land restitution and redistribution process.

At a restoration of land ceremony in 1998, former president Nelson Mandela reminded South Africans of the importance of land reform. “Our land reform programme helps redress the injustices of apartheid. It fosters national reconciliation and stability. It underpins economic growth and improves household welfare and food security,” he said at the time.

In the year that we commemorate the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth, let us use this opportunity to unite the nation and create a new legacy where we ensure that South Africa truly belongs to all who live in it.

- Williams is acting director-general of the Government Communication and Information System.

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