LAND REFORM: New Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has warned of too much fallow land in Gauteng which she pinpointed as clear targets of expropriation without compensation.
Gauteng may be the smallest province in the country, but there are vast pieces of land lying unused, and the government is going to expropriate these without compensation.

This is according to newly appointed Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, as she reaffirmed the government’s decision to implement its land reform policy that has sections of the population up in arms.

Gauteng has often been the epicentre of some Zimbabwe-style land grabs, with the Economic Freedom Fighters occupying certain pieces of land and erecting shacks.

“Gauteng has its own dynamics, but we have pockets of land in this province that should rightfully be expropriated. There are many such in Gauteng,” she said in an interview with The Sunday Independent on Friday.

Nkoana-Mashabane, who was moved from International Relations and Cooperation last week, did not say where the potions of land in Gauteng are but she explained that they contributed to the more than 80 percent owned by fewer people.

This while blacks remained condemned to squalor in overpopulated settlements.

And while she did not say how and at what scale the land reform would be implemented, she was emphatic that the government would be guided by a land audit by her predecessor Gugile Nkwinti, which indicated that blacks owned only a fraction of the land in South Africa.

She, however, hinted at targeting people who own more than 12 500 hectares of land, especially that is lying fallow.

“When I was chatting to Gugile Nkwinti, he confirmed that the majority of the people in this country only own 4 percent of our land, which we sing and chant in our national anthem.

“There’s nowhere in the world where the majority is almost 80 percent but only own 4% of the land. Even Indians who are the minority own 15 percent,” she said.

“Before (the land audit), we did the willing buyer, willing seller and we spent more than R200 billion. It didn’t work. The land audit has been done, and this expropriation is going to be real and at the fastest pace.

“Where we have identified a farm where there’s speculation of little or nothing happening on land that is fertile and lying there (unused) and the owner is not even living here, and it’s 12 500 hectares, (we will expropriate). That’s not being unreasonable.”

In his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa described the dispossession of land in the country as the “original sin” that had to be redressed through expropriation without compensation.

The phrase of “original sin” evoked pain and bitterness in Nkoana-Mashabane.

As a young girl growing in her rural home near Tzaneen in Limpopo, she was exposed to the hardships associated with forced removals. Her family was evicted from the land that is today known as Magoebaskloof.

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“My grandfather is a grandson of King Makgoba, whose skull was chopped because he was refusing to hand over the land. We were the last wave of the generation to be removed out of the rich and most scenic land called Magoebaskloof in 1966,” she said.

Today, the once prosperous and vast expanse of lush green tea estate is a shadow of itself, with unkempt, overgrown grass and all manner of plants.

This is after the foreign company that was running the enterprise quit after a successful land claim which saw the land returned to its rightful owners.

The collapse of the tea estates, which resulted in hundreds of people losing their jobs, is often cited an example giving credence to the notion that the government’s land restitution policy is a failure that will ruin the economy and endanger food security.

Nkoana-Mashabane sees it differently, cautioning against a simplistic view of the situation. “That land was taken away from my people and given to the government, then leased out to white farmers who did this deal with foreign countries.

“It’s not lying dormant for the sake of it, it is because of the (lack of) appropriate support.”

There’s need to explore other ways viable ways to use the land, in addition to it being utilised for tea plantations, she says.

“Also, technology evolves so you can actually use tea plantations for medicinal purposes, not just for picking of the freshest tea.”

She says people must guard against using apparent failed land claims as an ostensible reason to oppose land reform.

“Why must we be reminded that it’s lying fallow but when it’s them, it’s okay if they grow animals and turn this into a game farm. That’s an insult.

“The constitution says SA belongs to all who live in it, which is okay. But in the 20 years of my life outside this country, I know nothing of any country where the majority of the people are landless, are unemployed and the inequality is as bad as it is here.”

Government’s decision to adopt the implementation of expropriation without compensation as a policy has been met with threats of mass protests and even a campaign to discourage international investment in South Africa by some sections of society, mainly Afrikaner lobby groups and farming organisations.

Some have dubbed it “a populist” and “reckless” decision that would lead to them losing their properties, and that it would threaten food security.

Nkoana-Mashabane says the panic is misguided because land reform would be done legally in line with the constitution. After all, she said, Ramaphosa had himself explained the expropriation would not result to land grabs, and that it would be done without damaging the economy, agricultural production or food security.

“Who spoke about property and people going to be losing houses. In which resolution?

“These scare tactics are so unfortunate.

“We don’t mean land grabs and that we are now moving into chaos. We have to remain food secure. We have to use clause article number 25 of the constitution but also make sure that we give access to the land to people who are its rightful owners.”

She said, though, that land restitution in government’s terms was non-negotiable as it was crucial if restorative justice was to happen in South Africa.

“We have no vengeance or vindictiveness, but we have been very patient. The original sin is insulting, it’s vulgar because it doesn’t happen anywhere.”

Nkoana-Mashabane has identified the development of small scale farmers as among her priorities.

“We need to make agriculture fashionable. Currently, many unemployed educated black children are not participating in the economy and we need to teach them into beneficiation initiatives.

“The support they need is not handouts but re-skilling them. Making agriculture fashionable also means using the best technologies so that the land is not lying fallow while our people are hungry.

“My passion has always been working with women, and modernising land using technology so that it (agriculture) is attractive, and enable them to participate in the first economy.

We have said 100 of bilateral agreements with other countries and we are underutilising those because those we sign with and after that, they go and implement and we don’t.”

“The best resources we have is our people, so not just educating our children to become somebody’s employees but first ensuring how we modernise our agriculture and make it fashionable because there would be money out of it.

“Job seeking is okay, but they can become employers and employ others too.”

Sunday Independent