Multi-pronged approach to land reform needed
While this presents a major turning point in South Africa and promises to reverse the injustices meted out to the indigenous population forcibly removed from their land by colonialism and the repressive laws of the past, such as the infamous 1913 Land Act, the crafting of the modalities and implementation of the policy become a double-edged sword that presents both threats and opportunities, depending on how this process is managed.
Vumelana supports a land reform programme that maintains the usefulness of the land while providing restitution to the dispossessed, redistribution to those formally excluded from ownership, and security of tenure for those who live on the land.
We believe that all the role players should rise above the discord and find a middle ground that will be in the best interest of the current landowners as well as the intended beneficiaries of the land reform programme. Redressing the dispossession of land and securing the property rights of current landowners should not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
There is a feeling that since the dawn of democracy in 1994, South Africa has paid too little attention to the land restitution programme, with claimants often opting for financial compensation at best, and leaving the land restored to them lying idle at worst.
Regardless of these disheartening outcomes, South Africa cannot afford the luxury of a failed land reform programme. The consequences of failure are dire for workers who will stand to lose their jobs, claimants who receive little benefit, the local economy will lose productivity and the fiscus will incur huge costs without securing the expected results.
Despite the seemingly protracted political stalemate, a well-thought-out, multi-pronged approach can help navigate the country out of these treacherous waters.
Constructive engagement with the current landowners and other key stakeholders will have multiple benefits. First, current landowners will need support to help them to understand the unfolding process and the options available to them. In instances where their land is subject to a claim, they will need help engaging the commission and the claimants. In cases where they wish to dispose of their land under the redistribution programme, they will need help to engage the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform and future partners.
Correspondingly, the private sector and business community should be roped in as significant roleplayers in the land redistribution programme.
For the most part, landowners and business are not well prepared for this. We need to take lessons from the failed land distribution programme in Zimbabwe, where the private sector took too long to come to the table with serious offers. The Zimbabwe land reform programme for the most part alienated white farmers and the private sector did not intervene in time, causing dispossession and tensions between communities and white farmers. By the time the private sector became involved, Zimbabwe’s white farmers had moved to Zambia, where they have boosted the Zambian economy, successfully producing maize and tobacco.
Lessons must be drawn from countries where land reform has failed and in areas where it has succeeded. While every country is different, there are lessons to be drawn for South Africa.
South Africa needs a more flexible and diverse set of instruments for land reform if the process is to be accelerated. It would be fatal if discussions on the amendment of section 25 of the constitution diverted attention from the range of current issues that must be addressed in South Africa’s land reform and the paucity of resources available to do so.
An attempt to use expropriation without compensation as a sole blunt instrument to solve all problems is bound to fail. There is a need to open space for a more creative conversation by all parties, policy makers, communities and traditional leaders, investors, private sector, business, academia, civil society organisations, and non-profit organisations.
Within that debate various options, including a multi-pronged approach to engagement not limited to expropriation without compensation, should be considered to address the many dimensions of the land reform challenge.
At the heart of the proposed multi-pronged approach is an acknowledgement of the different needs and dynamics of restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. The suggested approach should be underpinned by an acceptance that land reform has urban and rural dimensions and involves agriculture as well as other sectors.
Given past experiences, proposed changes to land reform should, among other elements, improve land performance and support emerging farmers and beneficiaries of land reform to enable profitability of restored land. This must include the creation of jobs and skills transfer, protect commercial agriculture while also encouraging and growing smallholder farmers’ development, promoting food security and the socio-economic well-being of South Africans while ensuring stability in the country.
The role players in this process need to accept and protect South Africa’s best interests, and should be driven by the need to make sure that we create a better future.
While those who have advocated expropriation of land without compensation have argued that it will increase the pace and acquisition of more land, the reality is that it will not address the current challenges in land reform. These include, among others, that more claimants have to date opted for financial compensation than land restitution. Capacity within the state to drive and implement land reform has to be significantly strengthened. More importantly, in order to use the land productively, access to capital, skills and markets is crucial.
It would be futile to put aside the current challenges of the land reform programme while dealing with the current debates and challenges faced by land reform beneficiaries and first-time land owners. These too must be addressed.
We also need to accept that a large part of restitution will be addressed by financial compensation. To that end, it is imperative that we develop efficient means for achieving that and establish dedicated teams for finalising large, complex claims where jobs can be saved and more can be created.
In addition, communal property institutions need to be regulated, while an efficient, deadlock-breaking mechanism is developed and agreed upon to avoid any disagreements among members of the CPA or any impasse. The process will not be easy, but it will definitely offer a more practical solution and requires that we adopt an inclusive approach in developing targeted and sustainable solutions.
* Peter Setou is the chief executive of Vumelana Advisory Fund - a non-profit organisation helping beneficiaries of the land reform programme to develop their land in an effective and sustainable way.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.