The slow pace of land reform is a pugnacious issue in South Africa lately, and regarded as one of the ANC’s major miscarriages since 1994.
In taking a frank and intrepid stance on the issue, the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti said earlier this year when the new Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act was tabled, land reform must represent a radical change and rapid break from the past without significantly disrupting agricultural production and food security, and is to bring real benefits to working people and the poor.
Land in South Africa contributes to national wealth with a fundamental input into agriculture production and food security. Land is the primary collateral for obtaining credit, with the security of tenure providing a foundation for economic development.
Through various engagements and summits, the government wants to foster a national accord to ensure the majority of South Africans enjoy equitable access to land and legally securing land tenure rights.
The majority, in this case, means blacks living in communal areas, commercial farming areas, urban and informal settlement areas who—as a result of discriminatory practices—should be the primary participants and beneficiaries of the sustainable development generated from the land.
The ultimate goal of land reform is to offer a solution to people who lost their land, secure land rights, implement an effective land administration system, enable citizens to invest and develop business capabilities, and to create more job opportunities.
With these goals in mind, the first Restitution of Land Rights Act was passed to great applause in 1994. The new Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act that reopens the window for restitution claims was tabled in October 2013, with national public hearings in Parliament in Cape Town that took place end of January 2014.
With heated and emotional debate, the National Assembly passed the Bill on February 25. The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) passed the Bill on March 27 and President Jacob Zuma signed it into law on June 30, 2014. The claims lodgement period reopened on July 1, 2014, with time until June 30, 2019 to lodge land claims.
On February 27, 2014, speaking at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament, President Zuma said history was made by the passing of the new Restitution of Land Rights Act, and the many who were excluded by the previous cutoff date, now stood a chance of regaining their land.
The process of taking the land from indigenous people took centuries, Zuma said, whereas the new government was only given a few years to get it back, or redistribute it fairly to its rightful owners, and indeed many people are still excluded.
Zuma called on traditional leaders to use their resources and help their communities in the new process of land claims to ensure no claimants are left out of the process.
Most citizens who have already claimed land feel angered, as the process of getting their land back is painfully slow and dreadfully unsuccessful, with government being mired in its own inefficiencies.
For landowners, land reform incites fear of being evicted from their farms, mixed with feelings of despair with the prospect of seeing the blood and sweat of their labour dwindle as new owners turn the land into ruins.
Some rights advocates view the new Act as part of a rising pact between the government and traditional leaders, who see themselves as legitimate authorities over rural populations.
Door open for traditional leaders to claim
Of great concern is that politically connected traditional authorities may try to push through large land claims.
Minister Nkwinti said Communal Property Associations (CPAs) should no longer be allowed to own land acquired through restitution or redistribution within communal areas.
The model of CPAs was developed to allow the beneficiaries of the land restitution process to own land collectively. If CPAs can no longer own restitution land, the door is open for chiefs to claim ownership on behalf
One of the biggest claims could be lodged on behalf of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, claiming land taken from the Zulu kingdom during the colonial period from 1838 onward.
Within days of passing the Bill, King Zwelithini promised a gathering of 40 traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal that the Ingonyama Trust would help traditional leaders to make land claims: “As your king, I will abide by the law and approach the government to regain all Zulu land,” he said.
Land claims by traditional leaders must demonstrate the claiming royal house exercised legitimate authority over the area and its population at the time of dispossession.
The Witness reported that while the size of the Zwelithini claim is in speculation as to the full financial implications, it could run into billions, since the claim may include the Durban Metro, and sections of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the Free State.
While the new restitution Act does not explicitly give power to traditional leaders, a series of actions and pronouncements by state officials hint their sympathies lie with the kings and chiefs.
Commercial and rural farming
Farms have always been the biggest issue of land reform and some politicians—such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Commander in Chief Julius Malema—call for a more drastic approach such as taking land from white farmers without compensation.
Malema was accused by ANC Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, of using red overalls and berets to mobilise society, the poor in particular—characterising the EFF as Nazis and its leader as similar to Hitler.
The European Knights Project online also reported land reform without compensation is a top priority for Malema. Throughout the election campaign, he told supporters of his intention to implement the return of land to blacks within South Africa. While addressing a group of Zionist activists, Malema said: “We will take back our land as you did your Israel.”
Speaking to farmers in Johannesburg in August, Mantashe was loud and clear about land reform and farming. “Your farms will not be grabbed without compensation,” he said, while also referring to other countries in which crude populist policies have destroyed farming and food security.
In his parliamentary response to President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address in June, Malema lambasted the president for not having made greater strides in land distribution.
“Mr President,” he said. “You promised to distribute 30% of the land in this very year,” referring to a target set by government in 2009, that land in the hands of white commercial farmers would be redistributed by 2014.
If the land is redistributed back to claimers, this would be no guarantee of economic upturn. The early beneficiaries of land reform struggled to turn their properties into productive farms, and government responded by shifting its focus to productivity and commercial ventures, rather than supporting the development of smallholder farmers.
There’s a lack of capital to sustain farms under new smallholder ownership and many black farmers who would win land claims do not have the skills to keep the farms commercially viable, or work the land productively.
Mantashe said, “If we are to succeed, farmers must have access to funding and markets. If they don’t have that, they won’t succeed. You can give land to as many farmers as you want, but if you don’t have support programmes, it will fail.”
In a series of land reform debates, parliamentarians traded heated insults on the issue, calling each other “land thieves”.
Some are of the view the new Act is also in danger of ‘stealing’ the land: because it focuses only on long-term permanent workers, it excludes the majority of farmworkers and almost all female farmworkers, who are the most vulnerable and exploited.
Problems of rural development
In his personal capacity, Andries du Toit, Director of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, said in an online article the poverty of rural people in South Africa today is not simply a legacy of the past. He noted it’s the result of the nature of the growth path of the present-day South African economy as a whole.
Land redistribution cannot succeed if it’s disconnected from a broader vision of inclusive agricultural development, nor if it involves models unsuited to the real needs of small-scale commercial farmers. South Africa thus needs an approach that can deliver the inclusive and broad-based growth; if agriculture is to provide sustainable employment and food security, commercial farmers need coherent programmes of support from government.
Land and rural development needs to be situated within broader approaches to regional development which engage with the realities of urbanisation and economic integration, with policies based on democratic rights for all people, and not for a selected few.