Without Radical Land Reform, the dignity of the African people will remain incomplete

We are nowhere near restoring land back to those who were dispossessed by centuries of colonisation and minority rule, writes KHALID SAYED

A recent article in a weekly Sunday newspaper piqued my interest. It focused on a land ‘encroachment’ issue threatening to boil over in Stellenbosch. Several prominent family trusts have been implicated. The Economic Freedom Fighters has asked prosecutors to investigate and to lay charges against these purveyors of “white monopoly capital”.

The accusation is that a specific piece of public land has been encroached on and is not so public, with fencing and footbridges built by residents. What is interesting to note is the municipality’s response that some of these agreements go back to the early 1900s. Land and land ownership is indeed a complex issue given, as pointed out in the above example, issues of legacy etc.

But if one were to use that example simplistically and look at land taken away and demands through a process to get it back, we still have different sets of rules for different people in South Africa where the question of land and land dispossession is clearly defined in the Constitution.

The African National Congress should be lauded for showing great restraint in its attitude toward land repatriation, despite many of its constituents still fighting to reclaim land taken from them. The ANC is clear that it should be a government imperative and rightly points out the government’s Constitutional obligation to do so.

“ANC policy commits government to returning land to our people and due to this commitment South Africa’s Constitution mandates that land reform must take place.  The Constitution’s commitment to ‘just and equitable’ compensation for the acquisition of land for land reform purposes should be codified and should replacement for market-based valuations of land.

“The process must be facilitated and accelerated by the passing of updated expropriation legislation by Parliament. The government should take heed of the Constitutional Court’s finding that agreement on the quantum of fair compensation is not a pre-condition for land redistribution to take place and should never pay a premium in purchasing land for the purpose of land reform.

“In general, the success of land redistribution will be improved if there is greater oversight over land, farming equipment and technical skills transfer to the beneficiaries of land reform. Substantial investment in irrigation infrastructure is required, as is the resolving of water rights and the control over the allocation of water rights, and as is greater investment in innovative market linkages for small-scale farmers in communal and land reform areas.
“Furthermore, institutional capacity needs to be improved with regards to accurate record keeping and the removal of uncertainties with regard to the roles of various overlapping public-sector bodies involved in land reform.”

The fact of the matter is that only around 10% of commercial farmland has been restored to black South Africans since 1994. Nearly 74% of agricultural land is in the hands of white farmers. Land ownership goes beyond a matter of pride and redress, it is one of economic survival and upward mobility. Without this, they have very little with which to access finance to say, perhaps finance a child’s education.

Changing colonial and apartheid mindsets are integral and crucial to the land issue in South Africa. It is imperative in restoring dispossessed and displaced peoples’ and communities’ dignity. The fact of the matter is that black people are in the vast minority when it comes to land ownership in South Africa. Groups like Agri-SA claim that land reform is well ahead of the curve and have released reports stating as much. But as has been pointed out by those who have studied this group’s latest report, it is flawed.

An article in The Conversation Africa last month was quick to point out Agri-SA lies: “It’s also clear that, contrary to the AgriSA report, we are nowhere near to hitting targets set by the government in 1994. Black South Africans remain in the minority among landowners. Transformation simply has not happened. The first major flaw in the report is that it adds two numbers together – the amount of land held by black people, and the amount of land held by the government.

“It does this for all land, but also for agricultural land, estimated at 93.5 million hectares, or 76% of the total of 122.5 million hectares. It argues that a total of around 25 million hectares – or 26.7% of South Africa’s agricultural land – is now owned by previously disadvantaged individuals and government.

The lack of reliable, comprehensive and definitive data on land ownership the article opined on was that it leaves room for bodies like Agri-SA to inflame tensions with data and interpretations that misdirect society at large.

Bodies like Agri-SA and those in the media keen on throwing potshots at the government at every turn should be outed for this fake news as it places information that is wholly skewed in the public domain. The government, however, should act more decisively in dealing with issues of land and land reform. It cannot allow these wilfully disruptive groups from owning a narrative that at its heart is to set right the wrongs of apartheid and restore dignity and justice to the most marginalised in our society.

Sayed is the Western Cape Chairperson of the ANC Youth League 


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