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‘Pie in the sky policies’ – Cabinet’s rejection of land reform recommendations ‘dodges hard issues’

The Witness

20 Dec 2019

NIYANTA SINGH

MINISTER of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Thoko Didiza said yesterday Cabinet had approved 60 of 73 recommendations in the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture report.

Experts have criticised the rejection of recommendations to form a land reform fund; provide clarity on the fate of millions of people living on land governed by the Ingonyama Trust Act; and for land reform to take place in conjunction with an agreed vision for agrarian reform.

Didiza said the recommendations were rejected as they required further engagement at a policy level or overlapped with work already under way.

Didiza also skirted around the issue of expropriation without compensation and deferred to the ongoing work of Parliament’s ad hoc committee on amending Section 25 of the Constitution.

The panel recommended, among other things, that the Ingonyama Trust Act either be reviewed or repealed and land under it to be given to municipalities and people who live on it.

Owning more than 2,8 million hectares of land in KZN, the Ingonyama Trust, established in 1994, is the custodian of land previously administered by the KwaZulu government.

It covers 29,67% of the land in the province, and names King Goodwill Zwelithini the sole trustee.

The king has previously warned that anyone who touches the trust is declaring war on the Zulu people.

Earlier this year, the Ingonyama Trust board and the Zulu monarch jointly appointed a team of legal experts to look at ways in which they could challenge a report by a presidential expert advisory panel on land and agrarian reform.

Dr Donna Hornby, a land and agriculture researcher, said cabinet’s decision was disappointingly vague and gave little indication of which recommendations were approved and when and how they will be implemented.

“To put it bluntly, the minister’s response dodged the hard issues and reinforced pie in the sky policies that have proved to be ineffective.

“She avoided the critical, highly political question of expropriation without compensation, which divided the panel and resulted in a minority report, by saying it was subject to a different legislative process without referring to what progress has been made on the issue,” said Hornby.

She said numerous commentators on land reform, including the previous minister of Land Reform, have criticised government’s land reform implementation record. “A key issue here is the lack of consensus on an agrarian vision.

“What is land reform for? Who should benefit? How should land be held and used? These are foundational questions which the minister believes were ad issues, dressed in the 1997 White Paper on Land Reform; the very policy framework her department criticised and rejected when she was previously minister of Land Reform and Agriculture,” she said.

Hornby said that criticism related to government’s failure to proactively identify land for small scale farmers and to implement the subdivision of agricultural land where appropriate.

“Given the importance of the Advisory Panel in addressing these long-standing one would have expected the minister to announce a clear implementation roll-out plan, including staffing implications and a budget.

“These land reform nuts and bolts were missing, and the minister gave no indication of when or where a more comprehensive announcement might be made,” said Hornby. She said a recently published report from PLAAS at the University of the Western Cape on land redistribution, entitled

“Elite Capture”, tore into a policy that benefitted a small number of wealthy and politically connected individuals, frequently as a result of corruption. The report stated land redistribution has cost the fiscus dearly and contributed little to agricultural sector transformation.

“Despite this report and many others like it, the minister left hanging what appears to be evident to so many others, that the primary target of land redistribution should be the numerous small scale farmers struggling against the odds in communal areas and farm dwellers on commercial farms.

Twenty-five years into democracy, the expenditure of millions on advisers, incoherent and frequently changing policies that have disrupted the agricultural economy, and the minister still cannot answer the question ‘Who will benefit from land redistribution?’ with any clarity,” said Hornby.

A key reason for land reform failure, said Hornby, was the absence of co-ordinated support to beneficiaries.

On the Ingonyama Trust matter, Hornby said one got the impression that government intended doing nothing about it.

“One is left with the impression that government intends doing nothing about the Ingonyama Trust, preferring perhaps not to confront the king and his vested commercial interests.

“Acting as a private landlord of a vast piece of real estate, the king has turned customary land owners — his subjects — into tenants who face eviction if they default on rent. Minister Didiza and government’s silence on this issue is deafening,” she said.

Hornby questioned how many more advisory panels were needed before South Africa developed a coherent land reform policy framework that addressed the “insecure tenure of millions of South Africans, the unco-ordinated and poor support that small scale farmers receive and the housing backlogs that confront South Africa’s urbanising youth?”

A key issue here is the lack of consensus on an agrarian vision. What is land reform for? Who should benefit? How should land be held and used?