South Africa

It’s Complicated: The land issue according to the ANC Nasrec conference

By Stephen Grootes 26 March 2018

On Monday afternoon the ANC finally published the resolutions from its Nasrec Conference, which finished in December 2017. Yes. There has been a gap of three months between when the resolutions were agreed to by delegates at the conference, and when they were published. Which means that those in control of the process of publication may well have been able to, shall we say, have a strong input into the final wording. While it is impossible to suggest that one set of policies is the overarching priority to the exclusion of all others, it is surely possible to say that the resolutions on what the ANC calls “Economic Transformation” are a priority. Especially when it includes the land expropriation language. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

When considering a country as economically unequal as ours, it is obvious that “economic transformation” must occur. It is surely among the issues that matter most. And yet, when compared to all of the other policy the ANC resolves on at a conference, it is always given the least amount of time for consideration. In the case of the ANC’s Report and Resolutions document, it received just five pages. Every other policy resolution receives at least seven, and in one case (legislature and governance) 11 pages.

This writer has lamented this before, and also suggested before that this is because economic policy is the hardest type of policy there is to formulate. It makes sense when you consider how unequal the country is economically, and how broad a church the ANC really is. But still, it’s useless for the ANC to blame anyone for slow economic growth when it doesn’t actually do much about it itself.

Right, to the land question, which is probably why you are reading this anyway.

The language used in this section is important, and is a result of the very difficult compromises reached in the fraught political atmosphere of the Nasrec conference. Remember, this was the last commission to report back at Nasrec, and there are differing reports about what happened; it does appear that there was a scuffle in the plenary session during the discussion. To everyone of us at Nasrec it was obvious that the tempers were running very high indeed.

The key phrase in the resolution is probably this one:

Expropriation of land without compensation should be among the key mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution”.

Note the word should. Not must, not shall be, but should. Then come the famous caveats, that “we must ensure that we do not undermine future investment in the economy, or damage agricultural production of food security. Furthermore, our interventions must not cause harm to other sectors of the economy”.

This already is clearly the result of a huge, and possibly bitter, compromise.

But then comes a set of phrases that suggest the ANC’s vision of land reform is very different to that of the EFF. The EFF motion in Parliament wanted all of the land in the country to be owned by the state. The ANC says this:

The ANC’s approach to land reform must be based on three separate elements: increased security of tenure, land restitution and land redistribution.”

In other words, the ANC wants to ensure that those who are on the land, and presumably in this case black farmers, have security of tenure. This is not at all what the EFF was pushing for. It is also much more in line with the ANC’s traditional views on land ownership.

It was former Constitutional Development Minister Valli Moosa who reminded us back in 2013 that the ANC had insisted on having the “property clause” in the Constitution because they did not want black people to be arbitrarily deprived of their property as they had been during apartheid.

The issue of tenure is picked up again later, when the document says that the party must “accelerate the rolling out of title deeds to black South Africans in order to guarantee their security of tenure and to provide them with instruments of financial collateral”.

In other words, they seriously mean it when they talk about tenure. The land must be owned, properly, by the people who have it. As has been seen and discussed in many places around the world, this can be a game-changer for economies, because it allows people to use land as collateral to create capital to start small businesses.

Then there is from the ANC the “how” it is to be done:

The accelerated programme of land reform must be done in an orderly manner. Strong action must be taken against those who occupy land unlawfully.”

This then gets to one of the bigger political issues around all of this. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said time and time again that there will be “no smash-and-grab” land expropriation. When he says it, it is this clause that he is relying on. It is also this clause that every ANC mayor in the country will think of when they send in their officials to remove people who do occupy land illegally.

It is sometimes forgotten that a major political difference between us and Zimbabwe (apart from the obvious fact that we are a massive multiclass, multi-ethnic society and they were never quite like that) is that their president wanted to expropriate land, and ours does not. This can make all the difference in the world to whether it would actually happen.

Something that has not been widely discussed before the publication of this resolution is the idea of a land tax. The document says that it was resolved to:

Ensure active measures be put in place to drive land redistribution, such as a land tax.”

This is not necessarily spelt out, but it is clear that the idea is there. However, the complications are obvious; who would pay it, would any landowner pay it, would you pay by area or by value, who does the valuation, what about food-producing farms that are just breaking even. It seems unlikely, for now, that this idea will be instituted, if only because there is no evidence from the document that it has been fully thought through just yet.

Much of what comes next has been spoken about before, increased support for black farmers; local governments should be empowered to advance land reform, etc.

However, another terribly contentious issue is dealt with right at the back of the document. It says that it’s been resolved to:

Democratise control and administration of areas under communal land tenure.”

You have already heard about this, of course. This is one of the issues that has got the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini so angry. He is the sole trustee of the Ingonyama Trust, and has already indicated that he will fight any attempt to change the fact that he benefits from this control over a huge area of KwaZulu-Natal.

King Zwelithini will not be the only one unhappy with this sentence: traditional leaders in the Eastern Cape will have a strongly opposing view, too. The ANC has already had problems in keeping everyone who belongs to the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA on board, it now has an even bigger fight in store over this.

Danger aside, it is incredibly important for millions of people that this particular aspect of the resolution actually be implemented.

The land issue, of course, is something that everyone has focused on and is discussing at the moment. It is undeniable that there is a huge hunger for land, if only because there has been so little (or none at all) restitution for what happened during apartheid.

It is also a useful issue for those who seek to rule through division – if you were oppressed during apartheid you are likely to support huge changes in land ownership; if you were a beneficiary of that system (or of the current system), you will be likely to oppose it. But there is also a more present political context at play.

Julius Malema has made land one of his biggest campaigning tools. Before he became leader of the ANC Youth League, it did not have nearly the same political discussion. The centenary of the Land Act in 2013 passed with merely a whimper on the issue. Malema surely helped to get this issue higher on the public agenda.

Then came the particular political story of the end of days of former President Jacob Zuma. He needed a tool to show that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was somehow different to her opponent. And so this issue was then put into play, to capitalise on Malema’s previous work. That does not mean land would not be an issue if these particular political dynamics had not played out either. But it is possible that the ANC would not have passed this resolution if neither of these things had happened.

At some stage, it would be best if there were something approaching a national consensus on what to do about the land question. But it is also never-ending, because so much of our history is contested. Even many of the “facts” around ownership, the numbers that are quoted about, are also contested.

As Business Day deputy editor Carol Paton pointed out last week, government seems fond of saying that only 4% of land is owned by black people, but that “that 4% is a stab in the dark is immediately obvious. The report states at the outset that companies, trusts and community-based ownership were excluded from the count. This excludes 61% of all privately owned agricultural land”. In other words, the figure cannot just be left not interrogated.

It is true to say that the ANC’s resolution does call for land to be expropriated without compensation. But in so many ways, this is just the starting point for a much bigger and much more complicated debate, the one that could last many more decades. DM

Original colour photo: Graeme Williams for Media Club South Africa via Flickr.

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"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine

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