'Our own govt is to blame for land shambles'
Changing the Constitution will not make any difference in fixing the land problem, says UWC professor
The ANC’s planned constitutional amendment will not make “one iota of difference” to fixing the land shambles, says one of SA’s leading experts on land reform.
“I am not interested in whether the constitution changes,” said Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape.
This was because section 25 of the Constitution already gave the government a mandate for transformation, but it had set out to achieve the opposite.
“The pace of land redistribution has declined from about half a million hectares per year at its zenith in 2007/8 to one-tenth of that in 2015/16,” Hall said in a public lecture at UWC on Thursday.
“This has nothing to do with the Constitution; it has been a political choice to dismantle land reform over the past 10 years.”Hall said the 1994 ANC government promised to redistribute 30% of commercial farmland during its first term, but managed just 1%.
Even now, the most optimistic estimates were that 9.7% had been acquired and redistributed.
“There has been no national monitoring programme to say what the outcomes have been ... but we know that many of those getting land have been unable to use it effectively to improve their lives,” said Hall.
This was also the government’s fault: it had imposed inappropriate business models on beneficiaries and failed to support them. “There is massive disillusionment,” she said.
In fact, in the first decade of democracy two million people were removed from farms. “In reality, as a society we are engaged in an anti-agrarian reform and an anti-land reform.
“Fewer, richer people – mostly big companies – are coming to own most land, while workers continue to be expelled from farms.”Hall said the land hearings around the country, which wind up in the Western Cape this week, had exposed a society deeply polarised along racial lines. But the MPs seeking people’s views had posed the wrong question — “should the constitution be amended?” — to the wrong people.
“The question should have been posed to government: why have you not used your powers to expropriate land, including with no compensation?”
Hall posed seven key questions that she said needed answers before meaningful reform could be kickstarted:
Land reform for whom? “Should it be the farm workers? Should the land be shared among those who work it, as the Freedom Charter demanded? Or black farmers who are already farming in the communal areas? Or urban businessmen who want to diversify, and farm on the side? Should priority be given to those who have nothing and are in greatest need?”
Land for what? “What should the outcomes of land reform look like? What would success look like?”
Land reform where? “Land reform must now urbanise, while continuing to address the demand for farmland. Redistributed land should be strategically located in areas of highest demand.”
How are decisions to be made? “We have had an opaque and unaccountable system up to now. This has led to elite capture and corruption. The answer, surely, is to democratise the whole land reform process.”
How to get the land? “The state can expropriate, [negotiate] or buy on the open market. Should expropriation happen in every case? This would likely slow land reform down. Good test cases will be needed to show precedents so that they are not challenged in the courts.”
Whether or not to compensate? “This hinges on whether there is nationalisation or whether it is determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account what is just and equitable.”
With what tenure? “There are alternatives to private ownership and state ownership. Recognising the reality that most people hold informal land rights is key, and a new Land Records Bill could potentially provide the basis for people to record their informal land rights and start to challenge both private and state ownership.”