Business Maverick


ANC declaration on land highlights RET retreat, but offers few solid solutions

ANC declaration on land highlights RET retreat, but offers few solid solutions
Protesters march to Parliament on 11 September 2018 to deliver demands supporting land expropriation without compensation. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

In 2017, the declaration adopted at the end of the ANC’s 54th conference pointedly said that ‘the ANC should, as a matter of policy, pursue expropriation of land without compensation’. After the failure to change the Constitution along those lines and the adoption in the National Assembly of an Expropriation Bill that fell far short of that policy, the policies that have emerged from the party’s 55th conference have a strikingly different tone.

The unequal distribution of land remains a festering scar on South Africa’s body politic, not least because of the ANC’s failure to address the issue in a matter that actually produces desired results.

As such, it remains a red rag for assorted populists such as the EFF and the ANC’s now battered Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction, who wish to exploit the matter Zanu-PF style to gin up support for their ongoing project to recapture the South African state for personal enrichment.

It is also a red rag for investors who regard the protection of property rights as key to a functioning market economy. The example of the ruined economy of Zimbabwe and the colonial history it shares with South Africa is a clear warning of the pitfalls of pursuing a land redistribution policy in a populist manner.

RET’s fading fortunes

The fading fortunes of the RET brigade has been thrown into sharp relief by the wording on the land issue in the declaration adopted in the Free State this week at the ANC’s hybrid conference.

In 2017, the declaration adopted at the conclusion of the Nasrec elective conference narrowly won by then Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa pointedly made mention of expropriation without compensation (EWC):

“Conference resolved that the ANC should, as a matter of policy, pursue expropriation of land without compensation. This should be pursued without destabilising the agricultural sector, without endangering food security in our country and without undermining economic growth and job creation.”

The tone on the land issue is strikingly different this time round. 

“We call on government to prioritise unlocking the potential of the country’s land for employment, rural development, food security and economic development. We must do more to bring underutilised land into production and enable the state to acquire agricultural land for purposes of distribution to previously disadvantaged persons,” it reads.

So land remains central to the ANC’s political agenda — that is why it forms part of its declaration — but the path to be taken diverges significantly from that charted in 2017. This may still lead to a cul-de-sac. 

Ramaphosa victory

Still, the land policies now being undertaken underscore the more decisive victory this time round for Ramaphosa and his faction and help to explain why market reaction to the declaration has been muted. The rand lost a bit of ground on Friday morning against the dollar, creeping above 17.20/$ from around 17.16/$, which is hardly a big move for a currency famed for its volatility and sensitivity at times to ANC politics, notably on issues such as land.

Of course, the Expropriation Bill was adopted by the National Assembly in September — it still needs to be given the green light by the second house of Parliament — but the version was not to the liking of the RET set and opposition parties. It’s well explained here by my colleague Marianne Merten:

Controversial Expropriation Bill is finally approved after navigating a 14-year rocky road

It provides for expropriation only for the “public purpose” and in “the public interest” per section 25 of the Constitution. But it adds a caveat to “just and equitable compensation” by allowing for “nil” compensation” — or EWC — in some cases such as abandoned or state land or that held for “speculative purposes”.

An attempt to change the Constitution — planted by the Nasrec resolution — to entrench full-on EWC failed to reach the required two-thirds majority in the House in December 2021 after the ANC and the EFF disagreed over the definition of state land.

The focus has shifted but the goal — which is important and needed — remains on redistribution.

One of the draft resolutions that was due to be adopted — according to a draft document in Daily Maverick’s possession — is for the government to “maximise the implementation of the new Expropriation Act”.

On the legislative front, one of the resolutions calls for a “Land Redistribution Bill be initiated to … Enable the state to acquire agricultural land for purposes of distribution to previously disadvantaged persons, based on the constitutional principle of equitable access to land.”

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It aims for “clear legislative criteria for beneficiaries of land distributed by the state, which shall include all persons working on the land, such as farm workers, farm dwellers, aspirant small-scale and commercial farmers.”

It also suggests that “the capacity of the Land Bank should be strengthened to deliver on its mandate.” 

The bottom line is that the ANC’s stated policy priorities on land are still focused on redistribution, but with a renewed drive to “bring underutilised land into production and enable the state to acquire agricultural land”, supported by a beefed-up Land Bank.

But the state has been acquiring agricultural land for almost three decades. Last year, Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza said in a parliamentary reply that 1,672 farmers had been allocated 1.73 million hectares. 


Yet the programme has consistently not provided desired results rooted in a range of factors: new farmers lack capital or experience, infrastructure and market access are poor, and the lack of title deeds leave many in limbo as they have no collateral to seek credit. In some cases, squatters invade such plots to pursue subsistence agriculture.

Then there is the issue of the Land Bank. The ANC is constantly talking about the need to bring SOEs up to speed, but most remain dismal failures as anyone reading this at night with a headlamp will be painfully aware. 

Much of this is sensible on paper, including the resolution for strategies to be pursued to “increase the productivity of land in communal areas.” But most such initiatives are sure to flounder in the face of traditional authorities — the backbone of the ANC’s rural political base — in such areas and their aversion to measures such as title deeds.

Commercial agriculture is becoming increasingly hi-tech and automated, with innovations such as precision farming linked to GPS technology. Some of this technology can be and in some cases has been passed on to small-scale farmers in communal areas.

But commercial farming is becoming both more efficient and capital intensive, raising the bar to entry. Access to land is access to capital, even allowing some farmers to stuff loads of currency in their furniture.

Like so much else, it all stands as withering testimony to the failing state the ANC presides over. DM/BM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    If this article is correct, then the focus of the ANC is not just on redistribution of land (which, as is said correctly is needed) but specifically redistribution by giving it as hand-outs, in other words FOR FREE. And that is the Achilles’ heel of the ANC, because the value of something that you get for free, whether it be housing, land or whatever, is not appreciated. It is only appreciated if you had to work hard and for a long time for it, or if you have had to pay for it or is paying it off. And this is the way to go; i.e. everyone who wants land has to earn it first.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . Regarding the problem with the traditional authorities which keep the ownership of the land, my proposal is that traditional authorities must be given one of two choices: Either they must be forced to hand the land to the occupiers and then give proper services to the owner while the owner pays them a levy, like with shared title or full title ownership; OR they can keep ownership, but then, if the farmer wants to develop and need a loan, the chief must underwrite it (provide the guarantee for the bank). This must be written into law. The services that the chief then has to provide, includes proper training and education by providing quality agriculture colleges etcetera, and also provide the infrastructure; the farmer and residents pay him a levy and thus he must take responsibility for the electricity, water, roads, communication and others. He can do it with the help of government, but it is his responsibility. That is the solution I propose.

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    Luckily, I must say that I sold my farms for reasonable prices. I feel very sorry for people who might fall under unscrupulous greedy individuals who would gladly expropriate there farms without compensation after the farmer has spent a life time of building up an asset – expropriating their Pensions???
    Think about this if the boot was on the other foot?

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