Land reform: Here are the 3 plans Cyril’s experts are considering
From the pro-market to the 'radical', the models do converge on the idea that it must be led by demand
When President Cyril Ramaphosa gave his State of the Nation address on Thursday, he said parcels of land owned by the state would be repurposed as a way of accelerating land reform.
“Strategically located land will be released to address human settlement needs in urban and peri-urban areas,” he said.
This comes after months of debates on EWOC (expropriation without compensation) have dominated the public discourse, particularly in terms of if and how the Constitution would be amended to accelerate the process.
But, behind the oversimplified debates on land reform that scare or delight South Africans across different socioeconomic brackets, there is a very thoughtful and careful process going on.
The day before the address, the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform met at the University of the Western Cape. This came just after a two-day national conference called Resolving the Land Question had come to a close at the university.
It was a conference hosted by UWC, University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University, and it tackled the particularly difficult question of land reform in rural areas, with three very specific models being presented on how to move forward.
Professor Ruth Hall, from UWC’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, played a key role at the conference and was also appointed to Ramaphosa’s advisory panel in 2018.
At the end of the conference, she concluded on land reform: “The state has had the legal capacity to drive the process but has failed to do so. It is a lost opportunity. Some feel the answer is to fix the state and to get it working in favour of the poor. Others have given up on the state and feel the private sector should step up. Others still believe it is the absence of mass mobilisation of rural and urban people that has held us back.”
Looking back on the years of democracy thus far, speaker Rick de Satge from Phuhlisani NPC said that, basically, the Mandela era was characterised by a focus on “pro-poor multiple livelihoods”, that the Mbeki era focused on “emerging black commercial” stakeholders, and that the Zuma era was simply one of “capture and confusion”.
This was the recent historical context in which land reform after colonialism and apartheid needed to take place, and right now it would take 170 years to deal with the restitution backlog, according to the speakers.
So what are the three models?
The first model, proposed by professors Nick Vink and Johann Kirsten of the University of Stellenbosch, is a pro-market approach. It acknowledges that state-driven land reform has been a total failure, and instead proposes a minimal role for the state going forward. It proposes instead that a land reform fund be established, and that voluntary contributions of land be incentivised. Local land management committees would be set up to facilitate the process, but basically support would be given for a market-driven model to flourish.
The second model focuses on smallholdings, and is proposed by Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare. This model says that farming is just one of many different activities on such land and it instead promotes a “range of livelihood opportunities through land redistribution”. Most importantly, in this model, only 5% of land is distributed for large-scale farming. For small-scale farmers 20% of land is distributed, with the majority of land (75%) going towards settlements on smallholdings.
The third model, characterised as a “radical” proposal, comes from Mazibuko Jara of Ntinga Ntaba ka Ndoda. It proposes a complete departure from neo-liberal-dominated land reform and replaces the government’s current “ambivalence” towards land reform with an approach that recognises its “radical transformative potential”. In this model, land-hungry households and communities become the main beneficiaries of land redistribution.
This includes unemployed people, farmworkers (including those evicted since 1994), farm dwellers, small farmers, dwellers of informal settlements and dwellers of townships and city centres. In this model, “new institutional capacities need to be built in the state to plan and provide support” while the state needs to intervene to “restrain power of private capital”.
Where the three models converge in the thinking behind them is that “land distribution should be demand-led” and should have a “predominantly pro-poor focus”. All three also acknowledge that EWOC could make a “modest contribution” but is not in itself “a solution”.
A real deficit in SA, according to Rhodes University sociologist Monty Roodt, is social organisation in rural areas.
“In countries like Brazil, social movements have been promoting rural people’s issues but we have lacked this in South Africa,” he says. “But now, we are seeing in small towns like Bathurst and others how people have been staging massive service delivery protests, chasing councillors out of town and so on.”
He said that land reform cannot happen “in isolation” and that local government needs to be the locus of that.
“If local government does not deliver, it has to be made to deliver,” he said.
When asked if policy was going to be rewritten, Hall said that “the presidential advisory panel’s role is to look at all aspects of land, including rural and customary tenure, urban access to land, agriculture, and more. So what we can expect from the advisory panel is a final report before the end of March.”