Opinionista Jessie Duarte 4 March 2018

The ANC will manage the land question sensibly

Sadly, the ANC government has to admit that “willing buyer, willing seller” did not reap the rapid results needed to foster reconciliation.

Nelson Mandela, whose centenary of birth we celebrate this year, once said: “The progress we are making in land reform is matched in our other efforts to address the poverty that apartheid created. Our land reform programme helps redress the injustices of apartheid. It fosters national reconciliation and stability. It also underpins economic growth and improves household welfare and food security.”

These words of President Mandela are felicitously fitting as our country continues to engage in the land debate and, of late, the debate on the expropriation of land without compensation. The ANC welcomes this debate.

Madiba knew all too well the importance that the question of land played in our struggle for liberation, the economic emancipation of our people and the realisation of the national democratic society based on national reconciliation.

As Madiba noted, the powerful position that land played, in the redress of past apartheid injustices, the fostering of national reconciliation and stability as well as the very foundation of economic growth and welfare, the ANC has trodden carefully in addressing this issue precisely because it understands the very delicate question of land.

Despite the national imperatives and despite the urgency by which poverty and inequality must be addressed through the allocation of land, we will not rush into this important matter and be populist.

The ANC remains emphatic on land. Emerging from its 54th National Conference and having evaluated and debated the matter, the organisation, through its branches and being the broadest representation of South African society, resolved that the government must, as a matter of policy, pursue expropriation of land without compensation.

The phrase “as a matter of policy” is important because it gives a clear direction on what the ANC wishes to pursue in government. Throughout these days, we have heard various quarters suggesting that there is ambivalence in the ANC on this issue and that the ANC continues to debate the issue. Yet this indication, that it is our policy, emphasises why the ANC may be more emphatic this time round, in Parliament for example, than it has been before.

Expropriation of land without compensation is therefore ANC policy. We have not been led by the nose before nor were we led by the nose into this matter when the ANC voted in the National Assembly for the establishment a Constitutional Review Committee of Parliament to review Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic. In fact, the ANC led amendments to the motion proposed by the opposition.

Just as with the ANC’s resolution at the National Conference, so too the decision to set up a committee to review Section 25 will be conducted in a manner that is not isolated from the factors raised by President Mandela when he addressed the question of land.

The review of Section 25 will therefore not take place in isolation of the imperatives of ensuring that the agricultural sector remains stable, food security is unaffected and economic growth and job creation is not threatened. The resolution of the ANC was emphatic and, as one can see, echoed the sentiments of President Mandela. The ANC is therefore determined in guaranteeing that the review committee must present a number of modalities for expropriation of land without compensation.

President Ramaphosa, in his State of the Nation Address, also echoed President Mandela as well as the ANC resolution by accentuating the context in which the policy of the expropriation of land without compensation must take place. It must increase rather than decrease agricultural production, he said. The policy must improve rather than threaten food security while, again, highlighting the need for redress in respect of land.

Yet as President Mandela pointed out, the question of land is also integral to the national project which is intertwined with the economic emancipation of our people. We cannot continue blindly to promote reconciliation when we do not pursue justice.

While some have embarked on trying to define who “our people” are, the reality remains that the vast majority of South Africans remain without land. An injury to one is an injury to all. As with apartheid, all South Africans, black and white, suffer from the current injustices of ownership of land. These injustices of the past, as espoused by our Constitution, must be addressed.

The Land Audit Report: Phase 2, which deals with the scope of privately owned land, released in November 2017, highlights that white South Africans continue to own 72% of privately owned land in South Africa. This is followed by coloureds at 15%, Indians at 5% and Africans at 4%. In other words, whites own more than 18 times the amount of land than Africans do.

Even more so, to add insult to injury, the report indicates that 6% of the land ownership population owns 96% of farm land. Put differently, attempting to address the question of land redress directly connects to farmlands, and therefore the agricultural sector and food security, simply because, even in farming, we have monopolistic tendencies which are racialised.

In fact, the report states emphatically that nowhere in the country do whites own less than 53% of farms and agricultural holdings. The highest is in the Northern Cape, where 73% of agricultural holdings and farms are in white hands, while in the Gauteng, whites own 59% of farming land.

In terms of gender, males are said to own 71% of farms and land used for agricultural purposes. While in the Eastern Cape males own 80% of such land, in Gauteng they own only 51%. In terms of gender, we still have a long way to go.

Twenty-four years into democracy this gap is too staggering and, sadly, the ANC government has to admit that “willing buyer, willing seller” did not reap the rapid results needed to foster reconciliation.

The Land Audit must direct discussions and the debate on the expropriation of land without compensation. The audit sketches a scientific scenario rather than the emotional and often provocative language used by those opposing land transformation. As we have seen, even the international media is willing to ensure that the narrative suggests South Africa will be going the same way its northern neighbour did.

Land is a sensitive and emotive issue. Some opposition parties have had a head-in-the-sand approach and used the old mantra of simply blaming the ANC without contributing to the debate, while others have taken a populist approach. The ANC will do neither. We will debate and we will approach the matter with sensitivity and caution, but we are resolute.

The words used at the beginning of this column were by President Mandela was when he was addressing a community in KwaZulu-Natal in 1998. Present too at that occasion was King Goodwill Zwelithini. Madiba had gone on to remark that “… we knew land reform would not be an easy task or quickly achieved. In other countries it has taken decades, even centuries, and it is still not complete…”

In this year of celebrating Nelson Mandela and as we debate the policy of expropriation of land without compensation, the ANC wishes to send a clear message to all South Africans and even His Majesty that we do take the question of land seriously and, like all serious matters, we will handle it sensitively. DM

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