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Home  »  Empowerment   »   Land, The Solution To Economic Freedom?

Land, The Solution To Economic Freedom?


Land is a four-letter word. And so is vote. But that is not the only thing that they have in common. Ryland Fisher unpacks why land reform, and especially restitution and expropriation, is fast becoming one of the main issues around which the election in 2019 will be fought.
Image: Jackson Mthembu - Former national spokesperson for the African National Congress Image: Jackson Mthembu - Former national spokesperson for the African National Congress

The elections campaign will start in earnest in December this year, when the ANC elects a new leadership; this continues for about 18 months before the next general elections. There are clearly two camps in the African National Congress (ANC). One camp appears to want to stabilise the economy after a rough couple of years, which resulted in a downgrade to junk status by two of the three most prominent international ratings agencies. The other camp talks about radically transforming the economy, despite the potential damage it could do to the country.

Land has formed an important part of the campaign for radical economic transformation. The expropriation of land without compensation is seen by many as one of the ways in which ownership of the economy can be transferred into the hands of those who were previously disadvantaged. But there are many issues that do not get discussed publicly.

One of the chief protagonists of the campaign to redistribute land without compensation appears to be President Jacob Zuma, who seems to have been at odds with the policies of the ruling ANC since he addressed a sitting of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament recently. Zuma’s nemesis, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, has consistently called for expropriation of land without compensation. However, he has failed to win the support of any of the other political parties in Parliament, losing a vote on the issue by a huge margin earlier this year.

Malema’s party has argued that the government’s land reform programme was failing, that it has been slow and has not addressed injustices of the past. They asked for the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate issues relating to land expropriation. They believe the Constitution should be amended because it is hindering land reform.

On the face of it, Zuma appears to support the former ANC Youth League president and contradicted his colleagues in the ANC a few weeks later.

Addressing traditional leaders in Parliament’s Old Assembly House, Zuma said that he wanted government to undertake a pre-colonial land audit and change the Constitution to facilitate restitution without compensation.

“We must undertake a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation patterns,” Zuma said. “Once the audit has been completed, a single law should be developed to address the issue of land restitution without compensation. The necessary constitutional amendments would then be undertaken to effect this process.

“We are also looking at the possible re-design and establishment of the National Land Claims Commission as a Chapter 9 Institution, so that it can have the necessary powers to help us reverse this historical injustice. This would also require a constitutional amendment.

“All of this will require unity and common purpose and action in the country, to ensure redress and meaningful reconciliation. Naturally government and the governing party would want to ensure that this is an orderly process. We do not support chaos and illegal land grabs. Actions must be informed by the Constitution and the laws of the land,” Zuma said.

In an earlier speech, a week before addressing the traditional leader, Zuma had called on government to amend laws to allow for expropriation without compensation.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, accused Zuma of going rogue on land reform. “Zuma states that the current constitutional provisions are a hindrance to meaningful land reform. This is just a dishonest attempt to excuse the ANC’s own failures in government. In fact, it is corruption and bad policy that have been the greatest inhibitors to land redistribution and reform,” Maimane said in a statement.

Zuma appeared to be contradicting his own Cabinet colleagues and the ANC’s parliamentary caucus led by chief whip Jackson Mthembu, who is on record as rejecting criticism of Section 25 of the Constitution (the so-called property clause’. He is quoted as saying that land reform has failed because the ANC has neglected to implement it properly.

But the issue of land reform is not so simple, says Professor Malcolm Keswell, associate professor at the School of Economics and research associate at the Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) at the University of Cape Town.

“Land reforms are ultimately about changing the distribution of wealth in our country,” said Keswell at a lecture at UCT hosted by the newly formed Economics Students Association.

“There are three major areas of land reform: restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. Restitution is probably the most difficult of the three. It deals with giving land that was taken from people (and that might belong to others now) back to them. Redistribution relates to the rural development plans of the state, while tenure reform deals with farmworkers who have historical rights to land.”

Janet Love, national director of the Legal Resources Centre, has been centrally involved in trying to resolve land restitution issues in rural areas.

Their work has been made difficult by new laws, such as the Communal Rights Act, which are based on apartheid-era homelands and which determined that 13 per cent of South Africa’s land surface was set aside for black occupation.

“It was here that traditional leaders played key roles in local governance during apartheid.” Love wrote in the book, Land, Power and Custom, edited by Aninka Claassens and Ben Cousins.

The issue of traditional leaders also affects land restitution in South Africa. “Since the advent of democracy in 1994, traditional leaders have strongly objected to a system of elected local government being extended into their areas.

“For ten years they blocked the repeal of apartheid laws that bolstered their powers, demanding that an acceptable new legal framework be put in place first,” wrote Love. But she is clear that their opposition to apartheid legislation does not mean that they oppose the institution of traditional leadership.

“What we do oppose is law imposing distorted apartheid borders and power relations on the democratic possibilities inherent in the development of a living customary law that reflects all the voices currently engaged in negotiating transformative social change in rural areas. We know of many traditional leaders who enjoy respect and support. Leaders like them do not need laws like this,” says Love.

Land restitution, particularly in the rural areas, need to take into consideration not only the powers of traditional leaders, and the role played by some traditional leaders, but also poverty in those areas and whether people who will be given land will be able to use it to good effect.

Not everyone believes the political talk about land restitution, whether it is happening in rural or urban areas.

Zandile Nsibande, leader of the Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers) organisation, said it was “laughable” when politicians talked about land. “It is only about getting votes,” she said.

It is clear that the issue of land reform is not that simple and should not be reduced to a simple slogan that politicians think will make it easier to garner votes. For some, land represents a swear word. For others, it represents hope, which is also a four-letter word.

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