The report from the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture opens with the tale of Dudu Khuzwayo, a subsistence farmer from KwaZulu-Natal who dreamt of being a successful commercial farmer.
To fulfil her dream, Khuzwayo invested her income and immersed herself in agricultural training.
When bad infrastructure, underdevelopment and the 2014 drought shut her little farm down, she moved to the city, where she used limited space to continue farming and selling her produce to the urban market.
But she did not give up on her big dream.
Armed with her multiple certificates, she began searching for a commercial farmer who would be willing to sell land to her.
When she found a farming family that was convinced of her abilities and was willing to let go of their property, she thought she had achieved a breakthrough.
Not so fast, Mam Khuzwayo.
When she went to the provincial department of agriculture bearing the letter of intent that she had signed with the selling family, she was sent from pillar to post.
She turned to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s office for help. She was directed back to government, to no avail.
Her hopes were lifted when she met the minister of rural development and land reform at a conference in Pretoria.
The minister connected her with officials in the national department who would surely – surely – solve her problem.
“Unfortunately, all these efforts and money spent did not yield any fruitful results. Dudu was never allocated the farm. She continues with her vegetable farming in her township back yard, as well as jam and juice making,” ends the story.
Khuzwayo’s is also the story of so many would-be farming entrepreneurs who get messed around by the authorities at political and administrative level.
The panel noted that corruption had a major impact on land reform and said this took the form of bribery and manipulation of land prices and beneficiary selection.
The scourge of corruption in land reform, the panel noted, is “not merely due to ethical lapses by individuals”.
The whole system as it is configured in law, policy, institutions and implementation “lends itself to corruption”.
It is probable that it was this cocktail of ethical lapses and design flaws that failed Khuzwayo and millions of other (mostly poor) South Africans.
Despite this, our politicians are set to spend the next few months in an utterly useless exercise of trying to amend section 25 of the Constitution so that it can recklessly expropriate land without compensation.
Many of those who will participate in parliamentary discussions around this subject will do so without having read what the National Development Plan, the high-level panel report on land reform and the presidential panel’s report have to say about the subject.
In so doing, they will ignore a great body of work on the issue of unequal land ownership patterns, which the presidential panel flags as unsustainable and “a threat to our democracy, stability, growth and development”.
Driven by populist instincts, they will only be considering an agrarian past and will ignore the reality of land hunger and the need for decent human settlements in towns and cities.
They will also be blinding themselves to the need for a comprehensive approach to land reform, tenure rights and spatial development, with particular regard to doing away with the racially segregated apartheid cities.
The only concern of the populists will be winning the political argument. Damn the economy, damn food security, damn formal planning, damn investor confidence and damn property rights.
This is wishful and fanciful thinking on the part of this lowly newspaperman, but it would make the work of the parliamentary ad hoc committee so much easier if they locked themselves in a room and went through the report page by page.
They will find that the panel has already done a lot of homework for them.
Among the things they will find – if they didn’t already know so or if they conveniently overlooked the fact – is that the Constitution already allows for expropriation for land reform based on “just and equitable” compensation, and that it is possible to achieve zero compensation under certain conditions.
If they do choose to amend the Constitution to make the above clearer, they will find that the panel has kindly suggested wording for such a clause.
Once they have pleasured themselves with the constitutional amendment, the country can then move on to the real work of comprehensive land reform, much of which is detailed in the report.
Most of it will require heavy lifting, broad societal cooperation and, most importantly, determined leadership from the state.
But it is all very doable if the nation is serious about making progress on utilising land for the benefit of all South Africans and treating it as our common precious asset.
When that other guy who survived his wife’s poison came to power in 2009, he put together a heavyweight team that drew up the National Development Plan, which was an ambitious blueprint for the country’s future.
Had he been interested in governance and pushed for a fraction of the plan’s goals, South Africa would be a different place and he might have left a semblance of a legacy.
Cyril Ramaphosa must not let that same fate befall this report. It could be a game-changer.