SA Today: The DA unites, the ANC divides: A case study of land restitution


As several commentators have noted, any government with the track record of Jacob Zuma’s ANC should not stand a chance of re-election.

Yet, in the real world, it will be a political breakthrough if the ANC merely falls below 60% nationally, and below 50% in Gauteng.

Various analysts proffer a range of reasons for this. But most ignore a very important one, which I summarise as follows:  Despite President Zuma’s dismal record, the ANC only needs to follow a simple strategy to win an election.  It only has to ensure that the electorate remains divided along historical fault lines, particularly race and ethnicity. The DA has the much harder task of bringing together individuals, who identify with diverse groups, around issues of common interest. This is much tougher than it sounds, because, in all divided societies, issues relating to identity and group solidarity generally “trump” any other priority.

For this reason, political parties that represent majority groups in complex, divided societies have a massive built-in electoral advantage.  All they need to do is keep old divisions alive, and they win every time.  This is exactly what the National Party did under apartheid.  So it makes sense that both the NNP’s former leaders, as well as the “old nationalists” now with the Freedom Front Plus are with the ANC today.  They all use the same strategy of ethnic and racial mobilisation, otherwise known as “divide and rule”.

The DA, on the other hand, has the monumental task of bringing people together who still often live in different realities, divided by old fault-lines, including race, ethnicity, and religion.

When the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, visited South Africa in 2010, he asked to meet me to discuss the DA’s growth, and described our success as a project of “international significance”. He warned that no other party in comparable circumstances had yet managed to achieve what we had set out to do, and he was amazed by our progress. He was also optimistic that our historic endeavour had a real chance of success.

We are unshakeable in our belief that it is possible to build an open, opportunity society for all in a complex plural society, in which everyone is free to choose their own identity, is equal before the law, and where each person has the means and the opportunities to become the very best they can be.

And we also know that unless we can achieve this, South Africa’s democracy cannot succeed.

But we are also under no illusion:when the ANC faces the prospect of a serious setback at the polls, as it does now, they will mount the mother of all “divide-and-rule” campaigns, starting with the platform of Parliament.

That is the reason that so many “divide-and-rule” Bills are being rushed through Parliament and its committees before the House rises on 15 March.

Take land reform, an issue on which the ANC has lost all credibility. The three pillars of the land reform programme include redistribution, tenure security and land restitution.

If land restitution had worked, much progress would have been made in land redistribution, so these programmes cannot be clearly separated from each other.

But, what is often ignored, is that 92% of all restitution claimants have preferred to take cash pay-outs, rather than return to the land.  So when critics complain about the slow rate of return to the land by dispossessed people, it is important to note that vast majority of successful claimants up till now have chosen not to.

But those who have chosen to return to take their right to land, have found the going very tough.  In fact, according to the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, about 90% of such programmes have failed to keep the land productive.This simply makes poor people poorer, even though they nominally have their land back.

And there remains a serious backlog — involving mainly complicated rural claims  —  that is having devastating consequences for both the claimants, and the farmers who are unable to develop or borrow money against land on which a claim has been lodged. An investigation into the restitution process by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) found: illegal land grants to the value of at least R96.6 million, 636 examples of non-existent or false beneficiaries, forgery of valuation documents and officials’ family members listed as beneficiaries.

The reason for the failure of the restitution policy is NOT the “willing-buyer-willing-seller” principle, as the ANC falsely claims.  It is the corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency and arrogance that has characterised the government’s approach up till now. And it is also due to the lack of support provided to new farmers to keep the land productive once it has been transferred.

The ANC’s failure in land reform and tenure —  in both rural and urban areas — is even greater than the mess of the restitution process.

So how can the ANC possibly use this issue to its electoral advantage?

It is doing so by rushing before Parliament, the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill.  Its purpose is to deflect attention from past failures by seeking to re-open the “window of opportunity” for land claims until 2019.  It says to potential claimants:  if you did not lodge a claim by the deadline of 1998, we are giving you another chance to do so now.  This offer then becomes the overriding focus of the land debate during the election campaign!  Neat.  The government escapes any focus on its disastrous land reform record, while diverting the debate into the most racially divisive and emotive dead-end.  Neither the Bill, nor the debate around it, will focus on fixing the causes for the failure of land reform thus far, nor on the need to budget for a successful restitution programme, nor on strategies to keep the land productive, or the need for final deadlines.  It is merely intended to divide South Africans along traditional fault lines.

The massive electoral advantage of this approach for the ANC is obvious.

And it is designed to drive a wedge between two components of the DA’s support base.

The only way to approach these dilemmas is to go back to core principles and to work out a fair action plan, even if it has short term costs.  One cannot take short cuts because of a pre-election gimmick by the ANC.

The DA supports an orderly land reform programme that compensates people for verified past dispossession. We believe that if it is well managed, it will boost the rural economy, promote justice, maintain food production and prevent Zimbabwe-style land-grabs (which will become inevitable if we do not manage the process fairly and effectively now).  Our Western Cape provincial Department of Agriculture actively supports farm equity schemes – a reform model with which we have achieved an 80% success rate (which is probably why the national department has now stopped funding them).

Very few (if any) of the other restitution models have worked.  And this failure will not be solved by re-opening the window for lodging claims. On the contrary, it will overload a corrupt and incapacitated system even more and lead to yet longer delays, dispossession and stagnation in the rural economy, which is already beginning to undermine food security.  One of the most shocking statistics of the new SA is that, of the 120 000 productive farmers in South Africa in 1994, there are only 37 000 left today.  And since Jacob Zuma came to power, employment in agriculture  —  the most labour intensive sector in the rural economy  —  has fallen by another 12%.

We recognise that people who were deprived of the right to lodge a verifiable land claim before the 1998 deadline should not be penalised because of the State’s inefficiency.

The debate should be about how we find the best possible solution for everyone —  a so-called “win-win” outcome.

But the ANC has already turned this into a race issue, and when emotive rhetoric enters the debate, most people become impervious to reason.

The DA will nevertheless approach this matter in a rational, sensible and fair manner.

We have spent a long time debating this in our Parliamentary caucus.

Only when the conditions for successful restitution are firmly in place, will we support the one last re-opening of the window for a limited period, while requiring a fixed time period for the finalisation of all claims.  We cannot support a Bill that will result in the further loss of jobs through exacerbating uncertainty in the rural economy, escalating rural decline, and further jeopardising South Africa’s food security.

We will therefore propose amendments to the Bill that:

1)      Precede any “opening” of the window with an intensive national communication process, so that everyone who has a legitimate right, can knows what to do, and can lodge a claim immediately the window opens, so that the process does not have to be dragged out to the detriment of the rural economy.

2)      Once adequate communication and preparation have been undertaken, open the “window” for lodging claims for a period of six months.

3)      Require people who did not meet the 1998 deadline to show good cause why they did not in order to be eligible for consideration in this new window period.

4)      Set a clear deadline for the verification process, subject to the oversight and auditing of suitably qualified independent bodies, contracted on the basis of a competitive bid system that ensures a fair outcome to all.

5)      The nomination and selection of Land Claims Commissioners to be placed in the hands of a multi-party committee of Parliament, approved by each House of Parliament.

6)      Enable both claimants and land owners to get state-funded legal assistance if required in the process.

7)      Stipulate that the necessary budget be available in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework before the window is re-opened.

8)      Set a six year deadline for the final adjudication process to be completed.

These are some of the amendments we will move.  We believe that the DA’s approach can fix the shambles of land restitution over the past 20 years, treat legitimate claimants and farmers fairly and equitably, get rid of pervasive corruption and expedite access to land.

These issues would be worthy of a Parliamentary debate.  But watch this space:  it will be all about driving a racial wedge within the rural community of South Africa.  The ANC divides.  The DA unites.  And if we one day have Zimbabwe style land invasions, it will be entirely due to the mismanagement of the land reform process by the ANC government.

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