The voice of agriculture . Die stem van landbou . Izwe lezokulima

No silver bullet for land

Reform needs more than expropriation without compensation

The Witness 12 Feb 2019 MOIRA LEVY — Republished from Notes From The House.

AS Parliament gets down to the business of tackling Section 25 of the Constitution in the hope of agreeing on a legislative rewrite which leaves no ambiguity about what exactly is meant by land expropriation without compensation, a two-day conference of stakeholders from across the board reached a consensus that EWC is likely to make a modest contribution to land redistribution, but on its own it is not going to provide the solution.

This was one of the agreements reached at the conference on “Resolving the Land Question: Land redistribution for equitable access to land in South Africa”, held at the University of the Western Cape on February 4 and 5.

Another concern that emerged out of the group discussion was that the process of land restitution, with its multiple and converging claims by communities and individuals, is placing a stranglehold on redistribution, particularly in provinces like Limpopo where much of the province is under disputed claims.

It was also agreed that climate change needs to be far more prominent among the multiple factors to be considered in the long-delayed land reform process.

The focus of the event, which drew a range of experts from across the field, was agricultural land redistribution, although it was agreed that rural land reform spans both rural and urban domains. Participants set out to consider five questions, namely:

  • how should land for redistribution be identified, acquired and transferred?;
  • who should benefit from land redistribution in rural SA?;
  • what kinds of rights should beneficiaries hold on redistributed land?;
  • what kinds of support should be provided to beneficiaries?; and
  • what are the desired outcomes of such redistribution?

“If there’s one thing that is clear about land reform, it’s this: as a country, we have wasted the opportunity over the last 25 years to drive a truly transformative land reform process, and there’s a lot of work to be done now,” said Professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas), who hosted the conference with the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University.

Three key note addresses provided competing perspectives to help drive the debate forward. A multifaceted, well-researched and non-partisan land reform programme is required, especially in the face of political electioneering rhetoric.

There is more to land reform than EWC, and the focus on it risks obfuscating the importance of recognising that “redistribution must recognise and cater for a diverse range of groupings across widely different settings” and no single solution can be applied.

The three main inputs were from Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare who provided a “smallholder” proposal, a “radical” proposal was made by Mazibuko Jara of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda and what was described as a “pro-market” proposal was presented by professors Nick Vink and Johann Kirsten of the University of Stellenbosch.

The pro-market approach, based on minimal state intervention, argued firstly that it takes time to assess whether land reform has been successful. Vink and Kirsten said that “agriculture is a multigenerational enterprise” and 25 years of democracy is not enough time to determine whether redistribution initiatives have succeeded or not. They said that assistance for white farmers under apartheid “took generations to stabilise and take their rightful place in production for the market.

“Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity on what exactly are the objectives of land reform: how then do we know whether it has been successful or not?”

They argued for decentralised land redistribution, in the form of government, private and non-government sector partnerships, which would be implemented by Land Management Committees (LMCs) operating at district or local level. However, policies and legislation would be determined at national government level and implementation would be monitored by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.

The LMCs would identify the beneficiaries according to national guidelines, and existing poor farmers, farm workers, women, youth and the disabled would be prioritised, but this would not exclude others. In their words, “beneficiaries can operate as partners to existing farming operations, as individual or family farmers, or as groups in terms of land ownership and of farming operations”. They said that this will allow for experimentation to find agricultural models that suit different conditions.

In terms of their model, which is based on the National Development Plan, the land would be donated by existing commercial farmers and agribusinesses, who would receive some kind of quid pro quo to encourage participation, such as certificates of recognition. The certificate will entitle the holder to benefits such as procurement preferences, or a range of preferential financial arrangements.

In terms of this proposal, the land for redistribution would come from farming businesses in distress where the current owners voluntarily give up ownership in exchange for debt relief, churches, mining houses, land expropriated from absentee landlords and unutilised farm land. It would include government land that is not being used.

The value of this model, the authors said, would be the opportunity it provides to “those most privileged by past injustices to contribute regardless of whether they have any direct production or investment interest in land. What we propose is the creation of opportunities for inclusive participation from all sectors of the economy in the process of redistributive justice. South Africans, specifically the most fortunate ones, should ask themselves what contribution they can make to help restore the dignity of less-privileged fellow citizens and help secure a more just distribution of land ownership.”

Jara, in his presentation approached the question of land redistribution from a different angle. He does not see it as a policy issue, but rather a symptom of “a broader agrarian crisis reinforced by neo-liberal economic policies which have worked to reproduce the social, economic and spatial inequalities inherited from apartheid”.

What is needed is the entire transformation of the rural economy, he said, and this cannot be achieved “within the confines of the current economic and agricultural system, as believed by the ANC and government”.

He was scathing about the “cautious” approach of the Ramaphosa administration, accusing it of “containing contradiction”. An example, he said, is the ANC’s talk of combining expropriation without compensation with the need to preserve food production and economic growth. “Hidden behind the apparent rationality of this cautionary approach is the lack of a political will to envision a transformed agrarian structure and food system. The ANC remains beholden to agrarian capital in a liberalised and deregulated capitalist economy. The combination of what appears to be a radical measure to allow expropriation without compensation with a commitment to a stable agricultural sector is typical of the ANC’s long-held and sustained strategy on land reform [which] combines a commitment to land reform with basic ambivalence about its radical transformative potential.”

Beneficiaries in terms of this model would include farm workers, including labour tenants and those who live on farms; evicted farm workers; unemployed off-farm people from the “white countryside”; residents of former homelands and inner-city dwellers, especially those living in informal settlements.

The presentation by Aliber was labelled “a solidarity economy alternative”. He called for attention to be paid to small farmers who can contribute to the economy. He warned against largescale land claims which do not necessarily benefit those entitled to such reforms. He spoke of a “drift towards larger-scale projects, where relatively large amounts of land are allocated to one or a few beneficiaries. This is problematic as few people benefit and the most prevalent type of land need is neglected, which is the need for small amounts of land for tenure and food security”.

He did not reject large-scale farming altogether, which comprises 82% of South Africa’s agriculture, but argued that it should be reduced to a smaller proportion of the rural economy, allowing for an increase in small-scale farmers. He referred to a theme that came up repeatedly at the conference: land redistribution without genuine and effective support for emerging farmers cannot succeed. In his words, “agricultural support services are in long-term crisis”, and he called for improved mentoring from the large-scale agricultural sector.

“We have wasted the opportunity over the last 25 years to drive a truly transformative land reform process, and there’s a lot of work to be done now.”