We've failed at land reform, but we quit at our peril - David Mabuza

The current model for land reform, including the willing-buyer-willing-seller approach, is proving to be unworkable as it frustrated claimants and cost government billions, Deputy President David Mabuza told Members of Parliament in the National Council of Provinces on Thursday.

Mabuza was replying to questions regarding the perceived impact of land reform on social cohesion in the country since government embarked on initiatives to investigate the possibility of amending the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

He said while government had fared poorly in resolving structural landlessness and inequality over the past 24 years, accomplishing prosperity and equality through land expropriation was a vital part of preventing SA from suffering social strife in the near future.  

Mabuza told the NCOP that all South Africans who have the country’s best interests at heart agree that it is sensible and best to pursue national cohesion, peace and reconciliation by redressing past economic imbalances.

“All of us, including corporate citizens, civil society and leaders should be pursuing an inclusive society. The current situation demands we act together to resolve wealth disparities informed by land dispossession and landlessness,” said Mabuza.

Mabuza said it was disingenuous of critics to portray the latest initiatives as the source of social tensions in South Africa when continued inequality and landlessness had been stoking social tensions for decades.

Skeptics such as Afriforum have expressed their misgivings and these have been conflated with the invasion and occupation of land, leading to the debate becoming highly racialised.

The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema has publicly urged South Africans to occupy the land they want. Even black land owners have had their land invaded and occupied recently and critics of land reform believe the expropriation debate has aggravated the problem.

“We must confront the historical fault lines that undermine our peace and prosperity to ensure that we move forward united. The state of affairs continues to be a huge source of frustration to those dispossessed of land,” Mabuza said.

He said South Africa urgently needed a comprehensive land reform program to transform itself into a non-sexist non-racial and just society. The country's land reform has been slow and frustrated by opposition and an ineffective willing buyer willing seller system, he added.

“The bulk of the land in SA is still in the hands of very few people. Our political emancipation program remains meaningless until it is followed by economic emancipation. No political stability, peace or democracy are imaginable as long as the bulk of the land is in the hands of only a few,” said Mabuza.

He said the inter-ministerial committee on land reform, which he chairs, met with various policy makers and the agricultural sector. The engagements were positive.

“We as the IMC worked with farmer unions and the panel formed by the president has worked for a more unified perspective on land expropriation. We are encouraged by the goodwill of farmers, both black and white, and their willingness to partner with government in implementing different models to address the matter and for offering to donate land,” he said.

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