'Pressing' hunger for land? The stats show something different

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Anthea Jeffery

President Cyril Ramaphosa has recently claimed the ruling party must move ahead with land expropriation without compensation because of a 'pressing' and 'urgent' hunger for farming land among South Africans.

However, comprehensive opinion polls commissioned by the IRR from 2015 to 2017 have repeatedly shown that the great majority of black South Africans have little interest in land reform.

In the IRR's 2016 field survey, for instance, only 1% of black respondents (down from 2% the previous year) said that 'more land reform' was the 'best way to improve lives'. By contrast, 73% of black people saw 'more jobs and better education' as the 'best way' for them to get ahead.

In similar vein, in the IRR's 2017 field survey, only 1% of black respondents identified 'speeding up land reform' as a top priority for the government.

Even among people who were dispossessed of land under apartheid laws – and were most likely to have a strong wish to see their land restored to them – there has been little interest in land as opposed to cash compensation.

When the land restitution process began in 1994, some 79 700 valid land claims were submitted by December 1998. By 2013, as the then minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, pointed out, roughly 76 000 successful claims had been disposed of. However, only about 5 800 of these successful claimants (roughly 8%) chose to have their land restored to them. The remaining 92% preferred to receive cash compensation instead.

Said Nkwinti: "We thought everybody when they got a chance to get land, they would jump for it. Now only 5 856 have opted for land restoration." People wanted money because of poverty and unemployment, but they had also become urbanised and 'de-culturised' in terms of tilling land. "We no longer have a peasantry; we have wage earners now," he said.

The 76 000 successful claimants who could have chosen land rather than money could be seen as respondents in a particularly large opinion poll. That most of them – faced with a real-life choice – opted for cash, rather than land, is telling.

Opinion polls also show that ordinary people would far prefer to have rapid growth and many more jobs than the massive land distribution that the ANC is now portraying as the key antidote to poverty.

In the IRR's 2016 survey, for instance, respondents were asked whether they preferred "a political party which focuses on faster growth and more jobs", or one which "focuses on land expropriation to redress past wrongs". Given this choice, 84% of black respondents opted for growth and jobs, whereas only 7% wanted major land redistribution as redress for apartheid injustices.

Similar results have emerged from a comprehensive opinion survey commissioned by eNCA and carried out by MarkData in September 2017 among a representative sample of some 5 000 people, including about 2 700 self-declared ANC voters. (The results of this survey, as analysed by renowned political analyst and author R W Johnson, were first released by eNCA during the December race for the ANC presidency at the Nasrec conference.)

Even among ANC voters, it was clear that most people wanted the ruling party to embark on "more pro-business policies", rather than to pursue "radical policies/redistribution".

This was also the case in KwaZulu-Natal, the home base of the then president, Jacob Zuma, with his repeated calls for "radical economic transformation". There, 57.2% of ANC voters said they wanted the ruling party to "adopt more pro-business policies in the hope that business would invest more and create more jobs". By contrast, only 19.5% wanted the ANC to "push on with radical policies aimed at the complete redistribution of all wealth and income".

Support among ANC voters for "more pro-business policies" was frequently still stronger, standing at 75.9% in North West, 66.8% in the Eastern Cape, 57.1% in the Northern Cape, 55.9% in Limpopo, and 49.9% in Gauteng. In all these provinces, support for "more radical policies/redistribution" was low, coming in at 6.6% in North West, 8.7% in Limpopo, 10.6% in the Eastern Cape, 12.8% in the Northern Cape, and 16.2% in Gauteng.

These survey outcomes confirm that the great majority of ordinary ANC voters want more business-friendly policies – not the land "expropriation without compensation" option which the Nasrec conference endorsed and the ANC and EFF now seem determined to push through Parliament.

Claims by Ramaphosa and other senior figures in the ANC that ordinary South Africans are agog for land expropriation without compensation should be taken with a bucketful of salt. Far closer to the truth is Johnson's telling comment on what the eNCA survey results reveal.

These results (says Johnson) show that "much of the ANC leadership has completely lost contact with what most ANC voters think – and may not even be conscious of the huge divide that separates their assumptions from those of their electorate".

- Dr Anthea Jeffery is head of Policy Research at the Institute for Race Relations. The IRR is a think tank which promotes political and economic freedom.

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