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Most citizens have no dreams of making a living out of agriculture, writes Max du Preez.
Johannesburg - The little bit of hope I got when President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, re-committed the government to the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP) was dashed when the minister of Land Reform came with an entirely new - and unworkable - proposal for land reform directly in conflict with the NDP.
How seriously should South Africans take the government and the ANC that the NDP is their blueprint for development of the country towards 2030 after this?
For how long would South Africans have to listen to statement after statement that the NDP was the government’s blueprint for future development without evidence there were any moves to implement it?
And if the NDP was not going to be implemented, what is the government’s and the ANC’s vision for the way forward? Apart from, that is, “radical economic transformation”, whatever that means?
Minister Gugile Nkwinti’s new proposal that all farmers hand over half their farms to their workers does not only contradict the NDP’s concrete land reform proposals, it is also a rejection of the advanced and ongoing talks between organised agriculture and his department as well as the National Planning Commission and the Land Bank on new models for swift and workable land redistribution models.
This country has paid a heavy price for the policy confusion of the Zuma administration since 2008. Our economy is teetering on the brink of a recession and rating agencies have downgraded our economy to just above junk status.
We need a clear vision and consistent policies more than ever before. If the NDP was the way forward, then no policies in conflict with that plan should be implemented now.
The NDP’s diagnosis of what is wrong in the country and what needed to be fixed is simple, clear and straightforward. I have not seen much concrete evidence that the government took that advice seriously. I have only seen evidence that the government was reacting to pressure from sections of the ruling tripartite alliance and from opponents such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, Amcu and Numsa.
Nkwinti’s proposal is an exercise in populism, an attempt to deflect from, especially, the EFF’s emotive demands on land. He knows it won’t work and that it is unconstitutional.
Implementing the NDP would mean radical economic transformation, but in an orderly, results-driven way that would benefit all, especially the poor and unemployed.
It is an intelligent document, the product of serious research and discussion by highly respected and experienced experts from a wide range of views.
The idea behind the NDP was that it would put an end to haphazard planning and policymaking and put forward a broad, integrated vision of where South Africa should be in a decade’s time.
Most South Africans agree that our challenges are inequality, unemployment and poverty, and that’s what the NDP addresses. Land reform can play a role in doing this, but not a primary role. Education, skills development and the creation of more employment opportunities are far more important.
Two-thirds of South Africa’s population are urbanised and most citizens have no dreams of making a living out of agriculture.
To most of the hotheads, land redistribution is not about agriculture or food security. It is about history, dispossession and symbolism. These are important issues, but shouldn’t blind us to the real solutions of our pressing problems.
It is telling that most of those making the loudest noises about land are middle-class urbanites with jobs. Their passion for the land issue is not matched by their lukewarm demands for better education, better health care, better living conditions in the cities and an eradication of residential apartheid.
Do not expect any pressure from these quarters for an end to the feudal system in communal areas where chiefs and headmen rule over more than 15 percent of the best agricultural land, ruling out any viable commercial farming.
We have spent some R27 billion on getting new black farmers on the land, with very limited success.
But when it comes to education, we don’t have enough money to replace mud schools, to build and stock libraries and laboratories or to supply pupils with computers. Many of our kids still go to school on empty stomachs and many have to walk many kilometres to school.
Tens of thousands of youngsters who want to go to university or technikons are turned away every year because they can’t pay for further studies and the state’s funds for student support had run dry.
South Africa will not become a successful, prosperous and more equal society if we gave millions of people farms. Better education and skills training are a quicker and longer-lasting way to get citizens earning a dignified living.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.