DA grappling with land stance

A debate on the DA’s position on land is simmering as some within the party call for a more substantial stance on the hot topic.

With the DA intensifying its bid for national governance ahead of the 2019 national elections, a strong view is emerging from within the party that it needs to reconsider its position and message on land, which has become a popular cause.

A provincial DA leader has told City Press that the debate has so far been stifled, but would become a hot topic in the next few months as a policy review gets under way.

“There is the typical policy we’ve had forever, which just says the DA will try to do better than the ANC.

"Some of us have been insisting that we need a position on land; we can’t keep getting left out of debates and allow the ANC, the Economic Freedom Fighters [EFF] and others to discuss it among themselves,” the provincial leader said.

The deputy chairperson of the DA’s federal council, Thomas Walters, said the claim that the DA was falling behind on the land debate was incorrect.

Walters is also the party’s shadow minister of rural development and land reform.

“It is not true that we are left behind. Given our track record in the Western Cape, I would say that we are leading the debate on land reform.

"What tends to get reported on land reform are the more emotive issues,” Walters said.

“There is a populist and deliberate pushing of emotional triggers,” Walters said. “That is a debate that we are not part of because we don’t do politics that way.

“There is no question that there exists a history of discrimination and dispossession.

"But to look at today’s legitimate investors in land, whether you might or might not have been descendants of people who were involved in the dispossession of land, and call them [all] land thieves, and imply some kind of a racially based collective guilt, is not fair towards those who actually treat their workers well,” he said.

Walters added that it was not true that dissenting views on land – or any other issues – were suppressed within the party.

Last week, the EFF brought forward a motion in the National Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The motion was defeated, with the ANC and DA voting against it.

Two other members of the DA federal council agreed with the view that the land question should be looked at differently.

One said that it no longer made sense for the party to shy away from the topic, which has become a serious talking point, politically and socially.

“We need to come out and break it down in the simplest language in terms of what do we mean when we talk about land restitution.”

Walters told City Press that land had always been on the DA’s radar and was fundamental to bringing about freedom, fairness and opportunity in South Africa.

The current policy of the party speaks of expropriation for a public purpose, accelerating land restitution through efficient management of the process and remaining committed to the willing buyer, willing seller principle.

Those who oppose the current policy in the party say there is contention around the definition of a “public purpose”, and they say that the willing buyer, willing seller principle has proven to be ineffective and should be done away with. Others go as far as to say that those who make land claims should not be given money – just land – to address skewed ownership patterns.

Walters responded to the “strictly land” view.

“The DA believes that claimants must ultimately choose for themselves when it comes to the form of compensation they receive for successful claims.

"But with the right policies, accepting and investing in land will be [made] more attractive, thus making more people opt for land [rather than the money],” he said.

“Public purpose” should speak of something concrete and defined, he said, and not be too vague and general.

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