Land reform report: 5 questions answered

The harvest of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform an Agriculture is finally ripe for public consumption, and the report it released on Sunday provides several answers to pressing questions about land reform. 

Among the questions are:

Who should benefit from land reform?

The report states that since land purchase grants and subsidies were abandoned in 2011, there has been no system for rationing state funds, which opens opportunities for corruption.

"Beneficiary selection has not been transparent and there is evidence of so-called 'elite capture' as business people or those with personal or political connections acquire land ahead of farmers from communal areas or farm dwellers who have experience," the report states. 

The panel recommends that the largest chunk of the available budget for land reform be focused on two categories – farm dwellers, labour tenants and subsistence farmers, and smallholder farmers producing for local markets.

The remainder can be directed to medium- and large-scale commercial farmers, who are better situated to contribute their own capital and leverage finance from the Land Bank, commercial banks and other financing institutions. The panel is also adamant that women must benefit from land reform.

"Women must have access to land if land reform is to realise its developmental goals. The panel insists that the policy approach must purposefully redress gender imbalances in landholding by revising the existing rules of property in land under both customary and statutory law in ways that strengthen women's access to and control of land, while respecting family and other social networks," the report reads. Note the use of the word "insists".

It wants half of the beneficiaries to be women and half of the land redistributed to go to women. 

What land should be used for land reform?

Each municipality needs to identify which land is to be redistributed, with the input of local residents and the support of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, taking into consideration capacity and corruption concerns at municipal level. 

"Area-based planning and beneficiary selection processes will determine whose land needs are to be prioritised and therefore what categories of land are required," the report reads. 

To identify specific land parcels will require mapping exercises that should include the intended beneficiaries, taking into account the availability of water, relevant infrastructure and other factors. This local land reform plan should be embedded in Integrated Development Plans (IDPs), reviewed regularly and be publicly available as maps showing which properties are to be acquired for redistribution. 

Individual owners of properties that meet the criteria of land required for redistribution, or tenure upgrades for farm dwellers, may offer their land as donations or enter into negotiations with the state, failing which, the state may proceed to expropriate.

What is it I hear about a land tax and land ceilings?

The panel recommends that the minister appoints a land tax inquiry to consider a national policy or regulations to the Municipal Property Rates Act of 2004 to impose rates on agricultural land to disincentivise the retention of large and unproductive landholdings. 

"The tax system must be premised on the recognition that land must serve a social function that is of public benefit. The relative merits and potential demerits of such a tax, its design, thresholds, exemptions and use of revenue should form part of the terms of reference of the inquiry."

The panel also recommends an in-depth assessment of the conditions for the application of land ceilings. 

ALSO READ: Nationalisation of land not on the cards - presidential panel member

"Consideration should be given to the imposition of land ceilings to limit the total area of land that any one individual or company may own, to limit and reverse the trend towards concentration of land ownership, which is antithetical to land reform. Such ceilings must be varied across agroecological zones. The state must be empowered in law to compulsorily acquire surplus land and to determine which land is required for redistribution." 

Because land ceilings are generally difficult to enforce, the panel proposes that it is addressed alongside the land tax inquiry, so that large landholdings beyond a prescribed threshold may either be directly acquired by the state or be punitively taxed.

When should land be expropriated without compensation?

The panel endorses expropriation without compensation (EWC).

"This need not, and should not, be applied in every case," the report states. 

Parliament will draft a constitutional amendment and will consider the latest version of the Expropriation Bill, which provides for "nil compensation" in five specified instances. 

"The policy question is when and how expropriation without compensation should be applied," the report reads. 

The panel recommends that a compensation policy be developed for this purpose. 

"This should outline a compensation spectrum, ranging from zero compensation to minimal compensation, to substantial compensation, to market-related compensation. It should provide a typology of situations and indicate how compensation should be approached in each. 

"For instance, property owners who bought land since 1994 should not be treated the same as those who inherited property. Big institutional owners who have large property portfolios should not be treated the same as families whose land is their primary livelihood asset. The panel proposes that the Expropriation Bill plus its regulations should be referred to the Constitutional Court for confirmation that they are consistent with the Constitution," the panel wrote.

The panel suggests that the following categories of land should be earmarked for expropriation without compensation:

  • abandoned land;
  • hopelessly indebted land;
  • land held purely for speculative purposes;
  • unutilised land held by state entities;
  • land obtained through criminal activity;
  • land already occupied and used by labour tenants and former labour tenants;
  • informal settlement areas;
  • inner city buildings with absentee landlords;
  • land donations (as a form of EWC); and
  • farm equity schemes.

What about corruption? 

"The panel recommends improved oversight and more investigations and prosecutions to stop land-related corruption in all its forms," the report states.

"First, the department must tighten up the beneficiary selection process to reduce the scope for corruption in land allocation, by rationing its available budget across different types of land demand and land users.

"Second, selection and allocation processes must be more transparent and there must be greater openness and accountability as to how these decisions were arrived at. 

"Third, a Land Rights Protector must investigate allegations of corruption and refer cases to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) for prosecution."

Furthermore, the panel said opportunities for political parties or traditional authorities to profit from transacting public or communal land must be curbed. 

It also recommends better oversight over urban land owned by national, provincial and local government, and by state-owned enterprises, the demarcation of well-located and undeveloped land for low-cost, social and mixed-income housing, and the involvement of civil society organisations in consultations and decision making regarding the use of such land for urban land reform.

The full report can be viewed here.

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