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The expectations and fears
around land redistribution are what bedevil the national conversation on this
issue rather than the process of giving black people more access to land.
The EFF and some elements in
the ANC are building up an anticipation that farms, businesses and urban
properties are going to be expropriated on a large scale without any
compensation and handed out to ordinary people, instantly making them wealthy.
AfriForum and other right
wing whites are playing along for their own reasons, warning white people that
“the blacks” are going to throw them off their properties as happened in
Zimbabwe and that would finally destroy the economy and the peace.
Instead, it should be an
ideal opportunity to settle an old and serious issue – indeed, the original sin
of the colonial era.
If done properly, quickly and
on a big enough scale, land redistribution could actually achieve more than
just address the strong emotions around redress, justice, symbolism and
historic evil. It could actually become a major injection to economic growth.
But nobody will become rich
overnight, despite Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma’s populist promises. Land
itself is not as important as what one does with it. The people of, for
instance, Mali and Mozambique have ample access to land, yet they remain among
the poorest in the world.
Whites should start calming
the hell down and know that they stand to benefit more than they could lose if
the process really works.
From their point of view,
even the worst possible scenario would not be such a catastrophic scenario. In
the unlikely event that the ANC decides to vote with the EFF to change the Constitution
to spell out that the state could expropriate property without compensation,
arbitrary expropriation would still not be possible.
That would be a violation of
the Founding Principles in Chapter One of the Constitution that cements the
rule of law and the supremacy of the Constitution. If the rule of law is
followed, property owners will always have recourse to the courts.
Chapter One of the Constitution
may only be amended with 75% of Parliament and six out of the nine provinces
agreeing to it.
It is clear from the national
mood that if the status quo is allowed to remain unaltered for much longer, the
emotions around land will get more and more inflamed and could eventually lead
to so much instability that our democracy could be under threat.
Even the hardest Afrikaner
nationalist must know deep down that it cannot be normal that so few black South
Africans own so little land and that so many black people still live in squalor
where they have to bring up their children.
Urban land hunger is clearly
the biggest and most urgent problem. I cannot remember more than one or two
illegal occupations of farms over the last decades, but we have had hundreds of
cases of urban land occupation just in the last year.
The reason? The massive
movement of people from the communal black areas to the cities over the last
two decades. Between 2000 and 2010 the population of Gauteng had grown by 31%
and of the Western Cape by 29% – a movement of more than five million people in
ten short years.
The governments since 1994
had not anticipated this and certainly didn’t plan for it. Almost two-thirds of
our nation are now urbanised, the highest in Africa by far.
About seven million people
live in desperate conditions in vast informal settlements or squatter camps in
the country. Seven million out of a population of 56 million. Moreover, many of
the formal townships are hugely over-populated and offer a very low quality of
The government is now
planning an ambitious project to rapidly supply open tracts of land in and
around cities with water and sewerage infrastructure and then transfer them to
people with title deeds and permission to build their own houses.
Abandoned buildings in inner
cities will be renovated into decent living units.
It is in this project that
expropriation will be essential in terms of costs and time.
We are talking blandly about
expropriation without compensation, but actually it means expropriation with no
compensation, very little compensation, ample compensation or compensation
equalling full market value.
It is worth reading Section
25 (3) of the Constitution in this regard. It states that regard should be paid
to “all relevant circumstances” which it defines as “the current use of the
property; the history of the acquisition and the use of the property; the
market value of the property; the extent of direct state investment and subsidy
and the acquisition and beneficial capital improvement of the property; and the
purpose of expropriation.”
The redistribution of
agricultural land is also important, but not quite as urgent. Post-settlement
support to new farmers is more difficult than acquiring the land – the vast
majority of redistributed farms have become commercial failures because of the
lack of support.
The government has confirmed
that it sits on more than four thousand commercial farms that it hasn’t been
able to give to new farmers. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s High Level
Report commissioned by Parliament makes it clear that state capacity, an
incompetent bureaucracy and corruption are more to blame for the slow pace of
land reform that any other factor.
So why would the government
embark on the large scale expropriation of farms now if it doesn’t have the
capability to establish successful new farmers on the land?
AgriSA, representing most
commercial farmers, has proved to be very pragmatic and this week again
confirmed its acknowledgement of the untenability of having so few black
farmers on the land. It has spent some R330 million on supporting emerging
farmers over the last year and is committed to step up those efforts even more.
But establishing new black
commercial farmers is just one part of the solution. We urgently need to
empower large numbers of smallholder farmers on the land in every province and
assist them to be productive. This is done very successfully in Ethiopia where
more than a million families were given small pockets of land and ample support
from the state.
A recent opinion poll
quoted by the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies indicated that
about a third of black South Africans want land for the purpose of growing food
and that the vast majority of them said they would be happy with five hectares
or less. Most of these people are from the rural areas, probably farm workers
and people in the former Bantustans, and some who had recently become urbanised
and yearn for a piece of land for a patch of maize and a few cows and chickens.
It is good to agitate against
any reckless expropriation process and illegal land grabs, but it is as
important for citizens and civil society to agitate for a speedy and ambitious
redistribution of land.
It will benefit the landless
as well as those fortunate citizens who already own land, urban and
agricultural land, because it will lower the levels of anger and resentment and
make South Africa a more just and stable country.
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