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There will be no land grabs in SA, says Cyril Ramaphosa

“There will be no land grabs,” Ramaphosa said in a divergence from his prepared speech at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton.

Instead, he said, he wants to apply the same “Madiba magic” that led to the peaceful end of apartheid rule to solve the land crisis — by continuing discussions until an agreement can be reached that will “contribute to nation-building and social cohesion”.

“Land reform is not only about correcting a great historical injustice; it is also an absolute economic necessity,” Ramaphosa said. “In the end I want to reconcile the hunger for land that our people have, but also reconcile the fears and concerns of those who have land.”

More than 20 years after the first democratic election, SA remains a deeply unequal country where the black population, who were dispossessed of their land by colonial and apartheid rulers, remain disproportionately affected by poverty and unemployment. The EFF has used the land crisis, compounded by mismanagement of SA’s land reform programme, to win support.

In response, the ANC adopted a policy in December 2017 to change the constitution to explicitly allow for land expropriation without compensation. Seen as a threat to broader property rights with a potentially disastrous impact on the banking sector, which has about R1.6-trillion in property-backed loans, the decision has caused jitters among investors, who Ramaphosa has been trying to lure back to SA after nearly a decade of economic mismanagement and lacklustre growth.

The president said accelerated land reform, undertaken in line with the constitution and other laws in the country, “can be an effective catalyst for greater agricultural production, rural development, employment creation, and broader economic growth”.

He identified three priority areas: ensuring that those who “have lived on the land for generations” have the right and means to successfully work it; giving emerging black farmers land, security of tenure and the support they need to build businesses; and ensuring poor people in urban areas have access to affordable housing in areas near economic opportunities and social amenities.

Former US president Bill Clinton, who through the Clinton Foundation has been working to empower smallholder farmers, notably in Rwanda, said there is a need for more widely dispersed land ownership in SA. He warned, however, that forced expropriation “would not be helpful” to SA’s reputation as an investment destination.

“So let’s put that issue on the backburner, and let’s put the land that is available into the hands of people who have never had it,” Clinton said. “I’m all for picking the low-hanging fruit.”

Highlighting that SA is recovering from “some pretty damaging blows over the last few years”, Clinton warned that the government should not make promises about land reform if there is no commitment to follow through.

“People can tell when you say something and don’t believe it,” he said. “You can get hurt if you’re doing it wrong. People in rural areas will lose their faith.”

maraisj@businesslive.co.za