We are heading for an election year. There is suddenly a flurry of pronouncements to the effect that land ownership and water use need to be democratised and black people must be given access to both.
The subtext is that white farmers have an inherited monopoly on both and this needs to be speedily smashed.
The rationale behind threatened changes to the water and land policy regimes is that the state needs to take charge of the resources of the country. If it does not do so, growth will be stymied because new players – outside of the (white) commercial agriculture sector – are not getting access to these critical resources.
The answer for the government appears, once again, to lie in fostering what Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Pieter Mulder describes as “a form of resource nationalism”. Like mineral resources, which early on in the democratic order were declared to be owned by the state, the government wishes to see water similarly nationalised. While the government is stopping short of nationalising private land, it is preparing the way for restrictions on water supplies to farmers and foreign ownership of land.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa stated that 62 percent of water supplies were earmarked for the use of the farming community, dominated by white commercial farmers. Already 98 percent of water supplies were allocated, which meant that new townships, industrial estates and mines could not be guaranteed water. What she didn’t mention was that this figure applied only to surface supplies, not underground water tapped by farmers and others.
Molewa said that although commercial farmers received the lion’s share of water, commercial agriculture only contributed 4 percent to the gross domestic product.
“The implication is that water which is not being productively and beneficially used is held, and often traded, by a minority group,” she said in a policy statement this week. “There is a need to apply a use-it-or-lose-it principle.”
Mulder, who is also the leader of the Freedom Front Plus, argued that farmers could find ways of using the excess water unproductively rather than losing the right. He added that most farmers had inherited water on their lands, which made removal of any excess complicated.
There were no clear explanations yesterday as to why state ownership of land has mysteriously dropped from 22 percent to 14 percent, as indicated in the latest version of the land audit, first ordered in 2010. Perhaps it is because 7 percent of land – mainly in the former Transkei – is not registered, but the figures don’t add up.
The state is keen on finding out how much farmland is still owned by white people. But the audit group, which studied 1.15 million parcels of land, found that the Department of Home Affairs does not register people according to race. It hasn’t done so since 1994. Thus, one cannot work out if Johan Potgieter who owns a maize farm in the Free State is white or coloured.
The desperate attempt by the ANC government to re-racialise our politics has been stymied in the case of land. What we do know is that 79 percent of all land is owned by private individuals, trusts and companies. But we don’t know whether they are white, coloured, Indian or black.
Perhaps the government doesn’t actually want to know the true facts because the real figures may be surprisingly “transformational”. The absence of facts allows the ruling party to use the race card in next year’s election with impunity.