Given the stagnant pace of transformation to make the economy more inclusive of black people, no opportunity is too small to reignite positive change.
This could be why the new Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, hosted a well-attended International Women’s Day celebration on Thursday evening. Her 400 guests included about 100 diplomats, several business leaders and community groups from rural communities.
Events of this nature are only as helpful as the follow-up action that ensues. The people at the dinner needed to hear the minister’s voice in her first week in office, especially in the current land-expropriation-without-compensation atmosphere.
Diplomats are critical because they represent foreign investors, who cannot afford to panic unnecessarily when South Africa corrects its enduring apartheid injustices.
There were also representatives from industries that are organically linked to land, including Afgri and the South African Institute of Black Property Practitioners (SAIBPP). Big business and structures representing women in agrarian communities were there because women have always worked the land they do not own.
One of United Nations’ themes for International Women’s Day 2018 is: The Time is Now - Rural and Urban activists transforming women’s lives. The minister aptly linked this theme to the mandate of her department, being the creation of vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities.
But, neither the culturally savvy style of the programme director for the night, Florence Masebe, nor the potent musical performance by Abigail Kubeka could stop the minister from stating that land reform has failed black South Africans and must be accelerated; and kudos to her for that.
Reminding her guests that more than 80% of South Africans , read black people, own a mere 4% of the land, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane asked if it was appropriate that land reform could have spent R50bn only to deliver 4% of land to the majority since 1994.
“The land must be returned to its rightful owners”, she said as she reassured the audience that ‘the recent passing of a motion by our parliament to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation is an important step toward this long over-due process of a greater and accelerated restitution and redistribution of our land,” she explained. Land is dignity and one’s ability to sustain themselves.
Our over-reliance on the constitution, protecting property rights acquired unjustly and the cost of buying land back have stalled essential development of an inclusive economy. Land reform signifies the ability of black South African women to do that which they do best: feeding themselves, their families and communities. Our constitution, as great as it is, has not been tested on its ability to bring justice to black people dispossessed of their land. The recent motion to implement expropriation of land without compensation, where necessary, takes us closer to finding out how much political will there is to forge a better economic destiny for our people. The minister articulated it more decisively at the dinner: “let us work towards true gender equality; let us eradicate poverty, not alleviate it; let us make inequality history”.
Land reform is only the beginning, though. My experience in businesses that are anchored on land rights, agriculture and property, taught me that owning land is sufficient to make your business successful. There are other subtle obstacles to navigate. These include the inability of black farmers to acquire appropriate technology to produce efficiently. Efficiency in production makes one cost-competitive.
White and black businesses can do much better to collaborate in order to eliminate the persistent marginalisation of black businesses. State-owned enterprises, including development finance institutions, must also afford black business the same level of respect they give white business.
So, for her to succeed in breathing new life into the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, to promote sustainable livelihoods for black South Africans - especially women - Minister Nkoana-Mashabane has more to do. She ought to strategically work with her fellow cabinet members to create a dispensation that prioritises authentic black participation: from government procurement to policy reform and building strategic partnerships with business to advance black participation.
The answers are there among and in all of us, if we are willing to work together. As for the expropriation of land without compensation and the minister’s intensification of agrarian reform, it is our responsibility as leaders of our respective constituencies not to panic; but to actively display a willingness to hear one another for the elimination of unjust land rights. It is a win-win proposition.
* Maponya is an entrepreneur, a farmer and a nephew of Dr Richard Maponya.
The Sunday Independent