First published by Notes from the House
This was one of the agreements reached at the conference on “Resolving the Land Question: Land redistribution for equitable access to land in South Africa,” held at the University of the Western Cape earlier this month.
Another concern that emerged out of the wide-ranging group discussion was that the process of land restitution, with its multiple and converging claims by communities and individuals, was effectively placing a stranglehold on redistribution – particularly in provinces like Limpopo where much of the province is under disputed claims which are holding up the resolution.
It was also agreed that climate change needs to be far more prominent among the already multiple complexes of factors to be considered in the long-delayed land reform process.
The focus of this prestigious event, which drew a range of experts from across the field, was agricultural land redistribution, although it was agreed that rural land reform spans both rural and urban domains. Participants set out to consider five questions, namely:
“If there’s one thing that is clear about land reform, it’s this: as a country, we have wasted the opportunity over the last 25 years to drive a truly transformative land reform process – and there’s a lot of work to be done now,” said Professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), who hosted the conference together with the University of Fort Hare and Rhodes University.
Three keynote addresses usefully provided competing perspectives to help drive the debate forward. A multi-faceted, well-researched and non-partisan land reform programme is required, especially in the face of political party electioneering rhetoric, which is likely to mount in the run-up to the poll. There is more to land reform than EWOC, and the current focus on it risks obfuscating the importance of recognising that “redistribution must recognise and cater for a diverse range of groupings across widely different settings” and no single solution can be applied country-wide.
The three main inputs were from Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare who provided a “smallholder” proposal, a “radical” proposal by Mazibuko Jara of Ntinga Ntaba kaNdoda and what was described as a “pro-market” proposal by Professors Nick Vink and Johann Kirsten of the University of Stellenbosch.
The “pro-market” approach, based on minimal state intervention, argued firstly that it takes time to assess whether or not land reform has been successful. Vink and Kirsten state that “agriculture is a multi-generational enterprise” and 25 years of democracy is not enough time to determine whether redistribution initiatives have succeeded or not. They point out that assistance for white farmers under apartheid “took generations to stabilise and take their rightful place in production for the market”.
“Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity on what exactly are the objectives of land reform: how then do we know whether it has been successful or not?”
They argue for decentralised land redistribution, in the form of a government, private and non-government sector partnerships, which would be implemented by Land Management Committees (LMCs) operating at the district or local level. However, policies and legislation would be determined at the national government level and implementation would be monitored by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME).
The LMCs would identify the beneficiaries according to national guidelines, and existing poor farmers, poor farm workers, women, youth and the disabled would be prioritised, but this would not exclude others. In their words, “beneficiaries can operate as partners to existing farming operations, as individual or family farmers, or as groups in terms of land ownership and of farming operations”. They argue that this will allow for experimentation to find varied agricultural models that suit different conditions, terrain and settings.
In terms of their model, which is based on the National Development Plan, the land would be donated by existing commercial farmers and agribusinesses, who would receive some kind of quid pro quo to encourage their participation, such as certificates of recognition to the donor. The certificate will entitle the holder to certain benefits such as procurement preferences, or a wide range of preferential financial arrangements.
In terms of this proposal, the land for redistribution would come from farming businesses in distress where the current owners voluntarily give up ownership in exchange for debt relief, churches, mining houses, land expropriated from absentee landlords or unutilised and abandoned farmland. It would include government land that is not being used, including land owned by State Owned Enterprises, according to the authors.
The value of this model, the authors say, would be the opportunity it provides to “those most privileged by past injustices an opportunity to contribute regardless of whether they have any direct production or investment interest in land. What we propose is the creation of opportunities for inclusive participation from all sectors of the economy in the process of redistributive justice”.
“South Africans, specifically the most fortunate ones, should ask themselves what contribution they can make to help restore the dignity of their less privileged fellow citizens and to help secure a more just distribution of land ownership.”
Mazibuko Jara, in his presentation, approached the question of land redistribution from an entirely different angle. He does not see it as a policy issue, but rather a symptom of “a broader agrarian crisis reinforced by neo-liberal economic policies which have worked to reproduce the social, economic and spatial inequalities inherited from apartheid”.
What is needed is the entire transformation of the rural economy, he said, and this cannot be achieved “within the confines of the current economic and agricultural system as believed by the ANC and government”.
He was scathing about the “cautious” approach of the Ramaphosa administration, accusing it of “containing contradiction”. A perfect example of this, he said, was the ANC’s talk of combining expropriation without compensation with the need to preserve food production and economic growth.
“Hidden behind the apparent rationality of this cautionary approach is the lack of a political will to envision a transformed agrarian structure and food system in South Africa. The ANC remains beholden to agrarian capital in a liberalised and deregulated capitalist economy. The combination of what appears to be a radical measure to allow expropriation without compensation with a commitment to a stable agricultural sector is typical of the ANC’s long-held and sustained strategy on land reform (which) combines a commitment to land reform with basic ambivalence about its radical transformative potential.”
Beneficiaries in terms of this model would include current farm workers including labour tenants and those who live on farms, evicted farm workers, unemployed off-farm people from the “white countryside”, residents of former homelands, as well as inner-city dwellers, especially those living in informal settlements.
The final presentation, by Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare was labelled “a solidarity economy alternative”. Aliber called for attention to be paid to small farmers who are labour intensive and in that and other ways can make a contribution to the economy.
He warned against large-scale land claims which do not necessarily benefit those entitled to such reforms. He spoke of a “drift towards larger-scale projects, that is, in which relatively large amounts of land are allocated to one or a few beneficiaries. This is problematic for various reasons, but most importantly, because ultimately, few people benefit from land redistribution and the most prevalent type of land need is neglected, which is the need for small amounts of land for tenure and food security”.
He does not reject large-scale farming altogether, which currently comprises 82% of South Africa’s agriculture, but argued that it should be reduced to a smaller proportion of the rural economy, allowing for an increase in small-scale farmers.
He referred in his presentation to a theme that came up repeatedly at the conference: land redistribution without genuine and effective support for emerging farmers cannot succeed. In his words, “agricultural support services are in long-term crisis,” and he called for improved mentoring from the large-scale agricultural sector. DM
"If a man seeks from the good life anything beyond itself, it is not the good life he is seeking" ~ Plotinus