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23 October 2014 17:36 (South Africa)
South Africa

Zuma's attempted miracle: turning land into legacy

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa
greg nicolson on land

“Without land we cannot exist.” Putting land reform squarely back on the agenda, President Jacob Zuma quoted former ANC president Dr AB Xuma in his Saturday 8 January address. One hundred years after the 1913 Land Act was passed and in the first year of his second term as ANC president, Zuma is ready to revamp policies on land reform and redistribution. It could help millions of struggling South Africans and become a positive chapter in Zuma’s legacy. By GREG NICOLSON.

Speaking to a massive crowd gathered at Durban’s King Park Stadium, Zuma was upfront about his government’s chances of meeting the goal of redistributing 30% of farm land to black South Africans by 2014. “The ANC government is unlikely to meet this target given the slow pace of land reform. We have directed our government to urgently speed up the process through a variety of measures,” he told the crowd, which had gathered for the ANC’s 101st birthday celebration despite the inclement weather.

“We meet 100 years since the promulgation of the 1913 Land Act, which dramatically robbed the indigenous people of our country of 87% of their land, and turned them into pariahs and wanderers in the land of their birth… In 1994, we inherited this highly inequitable distribution of land ownership. Eighty-seven percent of commercial arable land was owned by white farmers and businesses and 13% of arid was in the hands of the African majority,” said Zuma.

Since 1994, the government has continually failed to meet its redistribution targets. A report released by Monitoring and Evaluation Minister Collins Chabane last year found that while the government aimed to redistribute 24.5 million hectares of farmland by 2014, it had only met 27% of that target.

This isn’t Zuma’s failure but one of the democratic government. In 1994, the ANC’s first minister of land affairs, Derek Hanekom, boldly said, “The resolution of the land question … lies at the heart of our quest for liberation from political oppression, rural poverty and under-development.” He aimed to transfer 30% of farmland within five years. The goal still stands for 2014 and the government’s going to miss it again.

The model either has not worked or has not been properly implemented. Chabane’s report said, “The process of acquiring and distributing a particular piece of land is often lengthy, and this escalates the cost of redistribution because the former owner stops investing in the land… Many of the farms are therefore in a poor state of repair at the point of acquisition.” The reasons for the redistribution failure are multiple, but both the public and the state have recently focused on the problem with supply, exacerbated by the perception that white farmers are overcharging and being difficult, leading to the ANC’s rejection of the “willing buyer, willing seller” model.

In Saturday’s address, Zuma said the willing buyer, willing seller model “has not sufficiently addressed the problem” and will be replaced by the “‘just and equitable’ principle when expropriating land for land reform purposes.” He also set the lodgment date for claims and an exception provided for the Khoi and San who were dispossessed before the 1913 cut-off. 

Otherwise, the president was light on details. Recent comments and policy proposals, however, provide some indication of what we are in for.

In October, Zuma suggested the proposals outlined in the National Development Plan. The NDP, adopted by the ANC as a roadmap for South Africa’s future, offers a model to avert the problems seen in current land reform policies. “This is an innovative policy that needs to be tested,” Zuma told the African Farmers’ Association of SA.

The NDP suggests every municipal district with commercial farming land form a committee comprising farmers and key stakeholders. Each of those committees would need to identify 20% of commercial farming land to transfer to black farmers. So as not to distort the market they would look for “land already in the market; land where the farmer is under severe financial pressure; land held by an absentee landlord willing to exit; and land in a deceased estate.” The state would pay 50% of market value, “which is closer to its fair productive value” says the NDP, and farmers would chip in to make up the other 50%. As compensation, they would receive black economic empowerment status and be assured their land will not be expropriated by the state. The plan envisages new ways of financing black farmers so they are not burdened by debt and the budget is not overly strained. 

The document says it supports proposals in the Green Paper on Land Reform to establish a land management commission, valuer-general and a land rights management board. While Zuma suggested land would not be expropriated without compensation, most policy recommendations suggest land will be taken without compensation where it has been found to have been acquired illegally.

Land reform will be a key focus this year and Zuma is likely to implement the most drastic policy changes since 1994. The move fits perfectly into the president’s plan to move into the “second phase of the transition”, from political to economic freedoms.

“We state categorically that the Land Act marked the beginning of all the problems we face today, such as landlessness, poverty and inequality,” he said on Saturday. Under Zuma, the ANC wants to focus on alleviating unemployment, poverty and inequality. Of course, these occur most in rural areas and the former homelands.

If the president can achieve the delicate balance of improving land redistribution while maintaining food security, which is the plan, he will go a long way to reducing this triangle of ills. It will also set him apart from former presidents and offer the history books something other than accounts of ineptitude, corruption and philandering. DM

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Photo: A worker walks between rows of vegetables at a farm in Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, April 24, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa


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