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23 March 2018 01:31 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mmusi Maimane

Land: We don't need a constitutional amendment, we need a total change in policy

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

Expropriation of land without compensation is the easy, populist, sound bite solution to divert attention away from the real reasons that lie at the heart of the slow pace of meaningful land reform and restitution.

The violent dispossession of black people of their land has been a bloody thread running through South Africa’s history – through successive wars, to colonial expansion, to the 1894 Glen Grey Act, the 1913 Native Land Act, the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act; the Pegging Act of 1943, and the Group Areas Act of 1950.

The 1913 Land Act in particular has been correctly called apartheid’s “original sin”, because it denied black land ownership outside of the “native reserves” and set up the migrant labour system. This dispossession left black people feeling as though they did not belong in the country of their birth, and destroyed their ability to own productive assets and build intergenerational wealth.

This laid the platform on which apartheid was built, and it is a trauma that our society still suffers the effects of.

If we are to be a prosperous, united nation at peace with ourselves, we must meaningfully redress this painful legacy.

That is why the Democratic Alliance is fully committed to land restitution and reform as a means for undoing the terrible trauma of dispossession, and building a strong, thriving and diverse rural economy.

There is nothing in our current constitutional framework which hinders meaningful land reform. Dikgang Moseneke, former Deputy Chief Justice, has pointed out that Section 25 of the Constitution has never been used fully, and that government has never even brought a test case to the Constitutional Court to test the meaning of “just and equitable compensation”. No amendment to the Constitution is required to make land reform work, and certainly no abrogation of private property rights is required.

Economic growth can only be fostered under a thriving market economy, in which property rights are protected. If this principle were to be abandoned, the impact on agricultural production, the broader property market, foreign investment and the economy as a whole would be disastrous. The expropriation of land without compensation is a bad idea that should never be entertained, let alone by President Ramaphosa.

The ANC’s (and the EFF’s) call for expropriation without compensation is a lazy attempt to scapegoat the Constitution for the rank failure over two decades to meaningfully reform land ownership.

It is the easy, populist, sound bite solution to divert attention away from the real reasons that lie at the heart of the slow pace of meaningful land reform and restitution.

The truth is that successive ANC governments’ land reform efforts have been characterised by bad policy, inefficiency, widespread corruption, and chronic underfunding.

Blaming the Constitution is an attempt to mask these failures and disguise the actual impediments.

While we need no Constitutional amendment, we do need a total change in policy. Current ANC policy sees the state as the “benevolent” custodian of land, confining black farmers to permanent tenancy – reliant on the state’s gift of a short or medium term lease. Under this model, no farmer is able to actually own land, or invest meaningfully in their farm, and no bank will take the risk of lending money to them.

In October last year I went to meet David Rakgase, a 77-year-old farmer from Northam in Limpopo. Rakgase has been leasing land from the government for over 20 years. His short-term leases mean he can’t get any money to invest in the land he lives on, and government will not let him own it. Rakgase is ageing and frail, and he’s losing hope that he will ever own his farm.

His story typifies the ANC’s approach. It patronises and insults black farmers. It sees them as dependants, not as individuals with their own agency and potential. The state is not prepared to make them real farm owners and businesspeople, preferring to consign them to perpetual peasant farming.

It also obviously opens the way for massive corruption, as rent-seeking bureaucrats know that farmers rely on them for their leases and therefore their livelihoods.

This is why the state refuses to transfer the more than 4,300 farms and 1.9-million hectares of land that it already owns, to deserving black farmers. But well connected friends of the Land Reform Minister have no trouble securing full transfer of a R97-million farm in Limpopo. It is full ownership for cronies, perpetual tenancy for everyone else.

This model of “custodianship” is shared by the EFF, and is contrasted in the DA’s model which favours full transfer of individual ownership and real empowerment.

The current approach also largely ignores urban land reform. Recipients of free government housing are hardly ever actually given title for those homes. This means that they cannot leverage this significant asset, the biggest asset they have ever owned, nor can they bequeath it to their family.

Where the DA governs we have pioneered giving full title to as many housing recipients as possible. The administrative process is slow, but we have already made real home owners of more than 75,000 people. This is meaningful urban land reform, giving people a real stake in the urban economy, closer to work opportunities.

The lived reality of people living on the millions of hectares of fertile communal land is also largely ignored. In fact, in many of these areas, expropriation is already common: the rural poor frequently have their land rights summarily removed by capricious local chiefs. The result of this lack of tenure security is plain to see – underinvestment, poor productivity, and corruption.

Far from exacerbating insecurity, we should be giving citizens living on communal land absolute security of tenure, so unlocking the most fertile parts of our country for increased production and economic expansion.

The Constitution is not to be derided as some fatal compromise. It is the framework for how any government should set about undoing the profound wrongs of our past whilst building a shared, prosperous future. We owe it our eternal protection.

Until very recently, even the ANC always acknowledged this. When expropriation was debated in Parliament in February 2017, one ANC speaker after another “totally reject(ed) amending Section 25 of the Constitution”. Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said the ANC would “never say yes to land expropriation without compensation. It’s just a populist statement which… will just promote anarchy in the country”. ANC Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin said in that same debate that “it is absolutely misguided to treat the property clause in the Constitution as an albatross around our necks”. While still a candidate campaigning late last year in the Eastern Cape, Cyril Ramaphosa said that he believed expropriation was unnecessary.

President Ramaphosa should now turn back the tide of populism that pummelled the ANC’s Nasrec conference into a change of policy. He should show real political will to fixing land reform.

We can correct the injustice of land dispossession in a way that respects the rule of law and in which the rights of current and future land owners are protected.

There are no quick-fix solutions. They require time, effort, and commitment. But the Democratic Alliance does not trade in quick-fixes; that is the currency of populists and demagogues. DM

  • Mmusi Maimane
    Mmusi Maimane

    Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance. See his Wikipedia profile here.

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