Our Constitution is the most powerful tool we have to effect land reform

The 1913 Land Act dispossessed millions of black South Africans, denying them the right to buy land in most of South Africa or even to farm white-owned land as tenants or sharecroppers.

Further legislation caused millions more to be forcibly removed from the land they lived on and owned during Apartheid. These inhumane, immoral laws had devastating socio-economic repercussions, causing and continuing to cause tremendous pain and loss of dignity, and entrenching the deep racial inequality, poverty and resentment that still plagues our society today.

Our Constitution was designed to achieve justice and redress, and to prevent arbitrary, destructive deprivation ever happening again. However, the ANC government’s land reform efforts since 1994 have been an unmitigated failure. The failure rate, depending on the measurement of success, has been calculated as between 73% and 90%.

Last Tuesday, the EFF led a debate in Parliament calling for an amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation. The motion was rejected by MPs of most other parties, including the ANC. Three days later on Friday, President Zuma echoed EFF sentiments in an address to Traditional Leaders calling on “black parties” to unite to enable expropriation without compensation. Fortunately, Zuma does not have the backing of his party or government, though the ANC commonly blames the Constitution for land reform failure.

Land reform is a social, moral and constitutional imperative. It can and should be made to work. There is nothing in the Constitution that limits the government from implementing land reform rapidly and successfully. In fact, our Constitution is the most powerful tool we have for achieving justice and redress in land reform. Changing it will not fix our land reform problems. Instead, it will put South Africans at risk of experiencing the same deprivation and disaster now being suffered in Zimbabwe.

The ANC and the EFF like to scapegoat the Constitution for failed land reform when in fact it is due to failed policy and corruption. It is disingenuous and lazy to blame the Constitution. One major policy downfall is that government has prioritised allocating land over helping beneficiaries to farm it productively, resulting in unproductive land, which helps neither the recipients, nor South Africa at large. The transfer of skills and support into beneficiary communities is absolutely critical to a successful land reform process.

Another is the unintended consequences of state ownership with long-term leases for beneficiaries. Without title to the land, beneficiaries are unable to access the credit they need to farm productively. In many cases leases are not given at all or, worse still, are given to “strategic partners” rather than the beneficiaries themselves, creating avenues for elite enrichment and corruption. With neither title nor lease, there is little to distinguish “beneficiaries” from squatters on state-owned land.

Corruption is the biggest problem of all. Land reform deals often involve inflated prices that enrich the elite. Last month, the Sunday Times reported on a Limpopo farm that Agriculture Minister Gugile Nkwinti lined up for two ANC cronies. The deal cost R130 million of public money, while 31 farm workers went unpaid and a productive farm fell into disrepair. The Mala Mala land claim deal cost taxpayers R1 billion and yet the “beneficiary” community has not seen any benefits and remains in deep poverty.

Government puts much blame on the “willing seller willing buyer” approach. But if government were serious about acquiring land for reform, they could go onto the open market and buy farms for a bargain, without having to go through the arduous land claims process. Currently, arable land in SA is very cheap because of the drought. There is an unprecedented number of commercial farms on the market, especially smaller farms. The fact is that the ANC government lacks the will, competence and integrity to effect successful land reform. It has failed despite the Constitution, not because of it.

Policy uncertainty and the ANC’s radical economic transformation rhetoric is already deterring long-term investment in agriculture. A move to expropriation without compensation will open the way for the kind of uncontrolled, arbitrary land seizures that happened in Zimbabwe in 2000, which has reduced the country from an exporter of grain, to a recipient of food aid for over four million people.

Where the DA governs, we make land reform a priority and it happens faster than anywhere else in South Africa. This is why the DA-led Western Cape has delivered in total over 75 000 title deeds since 2009, more than any other province. This number includes the transfer of title deeds to housing beneficiaries in urban areas – the DA believes that urban land reform is a very important empowerment tool. In national government, we would enact legislation to secure the property rights of those who live on state land, state-owned land reform projects and former homelands. We want poor people to own their own property and not have their property controlled by Traditional Councils or by the state.

And we would buy well-priced arable land on the open market and allocate it transparently. We would target young, black aspirant or emerging farmers and provide both title deeds and appropriate support to enable productive farming, ensuring sustainable funding models. As we have done in the Western Cape, we would provide an on-going package of financial support, technical and managerial assistance as well as invest in supportive infrastructure.

Also as in the Western Cape, we would support farm ownership equity schemes whereby workers share in the ownership of existing, successful commercial farms enabling a progressive transfer of ownership and skills and providing access to markets – an approach which has been found to be far more successful than a wholesale transfer of land to people who may be ill-equipped to farm it successfully.

The DA’s combination of well-considered policy and effective, honest implementation will rapidly expand property ownership and wealth creation for black South Africans. And when they finally have title to their own land, they will be glad that the Constitution protects their right to own it. 

Mmusi Maimane

DA Leader

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