Durban - South Africa can learn from the successes of Zimbabwe’s controversial land reform programme, SA Communist Party (SACP) deputy chairman Thulas Nxesi said on Sunday.
In a speech delivered at the KwaZulu-Natal SACP’s provincial general council in Pietermaritzburg, Nxesi stressed that he was not advocating for Zimbabwe-style land grabs, but pointed out that there had been some successes recorded in the neighbouring country since the start of its highly criticised land reforms.
“We may be able to learn something from the agrarian model adopted by our neighbours (of) essentially breaking down large-scale farms and promoting more intensive small-scale farming,” Nxesi, also the minister for Public Works, said.
He said that research had shown that through this new approach and focus on small-scale farming, Zimbabwe’s land reform process had led to more people benefiting directly from farming than was the case before.
Research also showed that 6 000 white owners were replaced by over 200 000 small-scale black farmers, while white-owned farms employed about 250 000 workers today, there are about one million people who made a living from smaller-scale farming, he said. “The land question remains a defining and persisting difference in South African politics.”
Nxesi hit out at the DA, saying it was no surprise that the opposition party was against the Expropriation Bill, which would allow for the expropriation of land if that was deemed to be in the public interest, with the amount to be paid as compensation being determined by the courts.
The DA has argued that some aspects of the bill were unconstitutional and could lead to land being expropriated at the whim of the minister.
But Nxesi said opponents of the bill wanted to defend the status quo.
“We define ourselves by our approach to the land question and the expropriation bill. You cannot sit on the fence; you either support an orderly constitutional process of land reform or you continue to defend privilege and vested interests,” he said.
The state would have to drive the process, he said. “If we look to history, the South African state has always played a central role in structuring property, race and class relations in the countryside to promote white farmers as they competed with their black counterparts for labour, land, water, grazing rights, other resources and markets.”
He said the ANC would have to ensure that the elements of state power were “mobilised” to address land reform.
Nxesi said that as part of addressing the land issue, priorities should include ensuring that farm dwellers were protected against illegal evictions, speeding up land reform and ensuring support to emerging farmers.
The SACP said the level of support given to farming had declined, while other developing economies had adopted policies to increase support for agriculture.
The party also blamed what it said were the post-1994 agriculture “liberalisation” policies which led to the collapse of many white-owned farms, rural towns and rural economies.