Defend Truth


Land reform solutions – mining forgotten legacies


Paul Ntshabele is an Agronomist, Businessman and Chairperson of the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation.

In South Africa we have made land reform synonymous with farming. It cannot be that mining abdicates its role in the land disposition of blacks and that the blame is placed squarely on farming. We need a holistic approach to the land question. The impact of a failed land distribution far outweighs our emotions.

I prefer land to niggers… the natives are like children’

Cecil John Rhodes

True to his word, the man went to grab over 3,5-million square miles of real estate and controlled over two-million natives (Adebajo, 2006). The man also gave us the Glen Gray Act 25 of 1894 which become the impetus for a large scale removal of Africans who worked their land to provide cheap labour to white commercial farms and industry. It also set in motion the action of a brutal and widespread dispossession of land of the Africans.

The aftermath of the Napoleonic wars lead to the promulgation of the Coinage Act of 1816 which was the legislative foundation for the adoption of the gold standard by the Great Britain in 1821. When gold was discovered in 1886 in the Witwatersrand, the city of London had already established itself as a leading gold financial market in the international monetary system.

So, London had an insatiable appetite for gold. A year after the discovery of gold in 1886, Witwatersrand contributed 1,2 tons of gold which was 0.8 % of the total world production. Five years later it increased to 30 tons which was 15% of the total output and in 1898 it rose even further to 120 tons which was 25% of the world gold production (Ally, 1994).

Please note I use the word discovery lightly because this is as per the written account of our History. However, we know that the Kingdom of Mapubungwe were highly skilled miners and agropastoralists who between 1200 – 1300 AD traded with China, Egypt and India in artefacts and gold. The famous artefact excavated in 1932 by archaeologists from the University of Pretoria is the famous 800-year-old golden rhino (Meyer, 2000).

The dramatic increase in the gold output was not because of perfection of mining methods or incredible discovery of new methodologies of mining or sudden gigantic technological advancement in machinery. It was largely driven by an expansion in land and exponential increase in cheap labour. It is no coincidence that the Glen Gray Act 25 of 1894 within this epoch enabled the widespread dispossession of land and removal of natives on their lands.

This, then, is the function of the native territories, to serve as cheap breeding grounds for black labour – the repositories of the reserve army of native labour – sucking it in or letting out according to the demands of industry. By means of these territories Capital is relieved of the obligation of paying wages to cover the cost to the labourer of reproducing his kind.” – DI Jones, Communism in South Africa (1921).

In 1889 Barney Barnato founded Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Co. Ltd or JCI which had a large property portfolio, it owned land everywhere including Houghton North of Johannesburg. The history of land dispossession can not only be left squarely to agriculture and mining. We also had the ‘land companies’ which some today are large conglomerates sitting on over 23 million hectares, private companies in South Africa own the same land roughly the size of Ghana.

The Union of gold and maize’ – (Trapido, 1971). A clandestine relationship between rye and iron, working hand in hand, the Agrarian capitalists working with the Randlords drove successful black farmers and landowners to relative obscurity conscripted to an infinite cycle of supply of cheap labour which continues to be the reality for the destitute majority of our people.

In South Africa we have made land reform synonymous to farming. It cannot be that mining abdicates its role in the land disposition of blacks and that the blame is placed squarely on farming. We need a holistic approach to the land question. The impact of a failed land distribution far outweighs our emotions.

We are at the crossroads as a nation. maybe it’s unfair that over 500 years of the historical injustices reparations falls on our generation to fix such a colossal ancient mess. Unlike sleep paralysis we cannot wake up from this nightmare. This historical mission requires level headed men and women of any colour or creed to roll our sleeves as corporate, civil society, traditional leaders, government and come together as one as one and make land reform work.

Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity” – Frantz Fanon.

Unfortunately, there are only two outcomes, there is no middle. It’s either we use this opportunity to carve a better more equitable prosperous society or we try to cling to whatever that will eventually be reduced to nothing. How we navigate the land question will determine either one of the two outcomes. For the sake of future generations, I hope we make the right decisions.

I remember the beautiful warm afternoon in 2005 in Pretoria at the Agricultural Sciences Building. During one of the Agricultural Economics lectures, I attended the lecture with my friends and fellow students, next to me on my right was Thomas Mehl and on my left Thabi Nkosi. We had a lively debate on land reform, from the policy perspective to how we should implement it. It was 13 years ago already in that lecture when Prof Johann Kirsten expressed frustration about the slow pace of redistribution and warned of the time ticking bomb that is land reform.

We do not have the luxury of time nor do we have time for any form of grandstanding. This requires ethical and moral leadership. Those entrusted by the people to lead them need to dig deep into their conscious and soul. Land reform is not a political party issue, the South African land question predates any political party or civil organisation present today. The land question in its essence is a South African issue that affects all of us. It is the common dominator that connects us all and binds us together.

Farm land has the biggest political capital because of its emotional volatility. A few weeks ago, during the parliamentary land expropriation hearings, the country was send to shock, perhaps in a way that was last seen the morning of 10 April 1993 when Janusz Walus’ ferociously wantonly murdered the General Secretary of the South African Communist Party Ntate Chris Hani. The nation watched the parliamentary hearings in disbelief. Respect is the premise and building block of Ubuntu.

The South African land question is both emotional and painful. It was not those at extreme ends of both sides that gave us the rainbow miracle. It was the men and women who ignored the noise and madness, heads bowed and sleeves rolled worked tirelessly and made do under trying times. I’m encouraged by the multitude of South Africans from all walks of life, who day in and out put in the hours to make land reform work.

Agriculture has unfortunately polarised the land debate. We need to move away from the narrow land debate. The land question is not a simple yes or no solution, amend or don’t amend section 25 of the constitution, with or without compensation, let’s grab commercial farming land or not. Instead it is a historically long complex exercise that requires us to exhaust our intellect and metacognitive skills fully cognisant of the ramification of a possible failed state outcome. We need the discipline to detach our emotion and be clinical about finding solutions to the land question. We need to have a paradigm shift and expend the debate beyond the narrowly defined scope largely set by our modern-day politics. We need a multidisciplinary approach to land reform.

Globally, McDonald’’s is the single largest owner of real estate. In South Africa one wonders for example how much land does the Catholic church own? We know that community based organisations own more (over 3.5-million hectares) land than double the size of Swaziland! What better way for community based organisations to empower communities than to give the community members much needed land for them to set up businesses, build their houses and cultivate the land?

We have over three-million hectares (that’s roughly the size of Lesotho) between nature reserves and national parks with crowded neighbouring communities. Upon thorough investigation we are most likely to find that it might be easier in some instances to make some land available to the surrounding communities for agriculture, enterprise or residential development. The reality is that the current skewed land ownership pattern was not a result of a single act of farm land dispossession but was varied and involved a lot more players than just white farmers. There are multiple solutions to the land question.

The unintended consequences have been that Agriculture, on its own endured the burden of the land question which lead us to miss a whole food revolution in south Africa. With everyone absolved and Agriculture the only culprit, Agribusiness for the past 24 years has had a relationship with government that until recently, could at best be only described as lukewarm.

The opportunity cost is that land reform became the Albatross to Agribusiness. Unfortunately, the South African land question gave rise to prejudices and strained relations between Agribusiness and government. It became difficult to separate issues.

Africa has and continues to experience a population boom; some African cities are forecast to double in the next 32 years. South African Agriculture is the most sophisticated in the continent with the best infrastructure and most importantly human resource. We have the advantage to be the leader in Agriculture in this continent.

In my view we should have been at the forefront of the food production revolution. Countries on par with our Agriculture in foreign lands have a closer relation between Agribusiness and the government. With a few isolated cases of joint ventures between Agribusiness and government institutions like the PIC and so on, we do not have a coherent clear strategy to capitalise on the opportunities that the food revolution in this continent provides. As I have said the reason is because it has been difficult to separate between domestic issue of land, commerce and trade.

Other countries are clear and resolute, on their strategy and investment plans in Africa. It is not a coincidence that in 2009 alone over 60 million hectares of land was leased (some on 99-year leases) or purchased in our continent. We are faced with the challenges of an ailing economy, our developmental obligation to our people far exceeds the fiscus. Agribusiness supported by government with a clear plan to ensure food security in Africa can replenish our fiscus, for example.

Africa needs 3.5 million tractors to be on par with other regions. Why are we not working together with government to utilize our special economic and industrial development zone to build plants that churns out tractors in Africa? We could employ our people and pay taxes, leverage on our relationship with SADAC and AU and supply our fellow continent men with tractors? We can even call it the Mandela tractor. Why are we not doing that? Why is it easier for the motor industry to build plants in Port Elizabeth or Rosslyn to export cars? Surely it is more difficult to assemble a German spec than a basic tractor? Who is supplying Africa with tractors?

A few years ago, I led a consortium through Land Rehabilitation Co. Pty Ltd which I co-founded, a land use project management company with a strong focus on agricultural production. The consortium comprised of social investment company that develop High Potential Impact Nodes (HPINs), a law firm, AgriMintech which did research with Eskom and uses fly ash and sewage sludge to produce cheap organic soil amelioration ‘fertilizer’, Grass SA and other local industry partners. Together with the University of Pretoria we worked to establish the Centre of Mining Rehabilitation (CMR).

CMR research and training centre of excellence aimed to create industry by evaluating and establishing sustainable land use systems on rehabilitated land. Anglo American was on board to make available one of their mines in the highveld. Agribusiness was excited about the project. We had the Japanese multinational Sakata Seeds which already plays in the rehabilitation space mainly through their Biomosomes and Senwes had expressed interest to produce grain.

South Africa has close to 6 000 derelict and ownerless mines. Some of these mines coincide with high population density. The department of Mineral Resources is responsible for the rehabilitating this mines at an estimated cost of R30 billion. The Geoscience council and Mintek which are stakeholder to the project lack capacity.

The derelict and ownerless mines cover large tracks of land (there is no data on the total hectarage of the 5,906 abandoned mines) which is not been used, while we are faced with a dire land hunger from our communities. CMR’s objective was to do an audit, inventory, create a standard, geotagged atlas and land use plan for the mines.

The government has prioritised rehabilitating the mines which pose environmental and hazardous health risk like asbestos and acid drainage mines. The Geoscience council classified 1 730 mines as high risk. We do not have a clear plan on the rest of the derelict and ownerless mines. There is no clear assignment of responsibility or criteria. How can we productively use that land in line with the National Development Plan agenda of food security and revitalize the rural economy?

We could take low risk derelict and ownerless mines’ land and empower our people with title deeds. This would not be anything new. Fig one of Snake Park in Soweto clearly illustrate that communities are already living on the abandoned or inactive mines.

In June at the Agribusiness Business Chamber Congress in Port Elizabeth I bumped into the Chairperson of the chamber and Managing Director of Senwes Francois Strydom. He asked me whatever happened to the CMR and Land Rehabilitaion Co. Pty Ltd project because a lot of time and money was spent on it. The former Honourable Minister of the department of Mineral Resource Ngoako Ramathlodi was redeployed and the project came to a screeching halt.

The mining houses are sitting on R60-billion in financial provisions through financial instruments like bonds, guarantees and trusts. They cannot access the funds because of laws which didn’t anticipate our reality, which we have the power to change.

The honourable minister of the department of Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe has just released the revised mining charter. Mines are to procure 70% of all the mining goods from BEE entities, also 10% of all procurement budget on services may be offset against supplier and enterprise development. For community development they need to spend additional 5% of equity equivalent outside the Social and Labour Plan. This means hundreds of millions if not billions of additional developmental funding that communities can use!

The question of land and poverty alleviation requires a multidisciplinary approach. When a mine company owns a 1000 ha property for example, one finds that the mining activity is restricted to a small area like 200ha. The rest of the 800ha land can be made available to communities.

So, we have mining houses that own land and the 5% equity equivalent that they need to spend. What can a nation achieve when it has land and capital? My fellow countryman what ought we to make of this opportunity?

I think we can use this opportunity for the mining industry to finally redeem itself, to positively contribute to the South African land question, alleviate poverty and “sixteen hours or more a day for almost no pay” (The inimitable Bra Hugh Masekela). We can use this opportunity for mining to drive the agrarian and rural revolution.

History teaches us that it would not be the first time that this happens. It happened before 120 years ago when mining provided Transvaal farmers in distress with capital and markets to feed the cheap migrant labourers.

At the turn of the 20th Century South African agriculture was in disarray. The South African war had destroyed thousands of farms and virtually brought white farming to a standstill..The mines required cheap supply of agricultural products, particularly maize…. Lord Milner’s Reconstruction plans after the war restored the defeated Boer notables to their farms and gave them assistance to recommence farming…. Many of these farmers had the mines to thank for their agricultural success. Esrael Lazarus, the most prominent farmer in the eastern Transvaal, was a case in point. In 15 years this Lithuanian Jewish immigrant made an astonishing rise from local smous (hawker-trader) to prosperous farmer. In 1911 he began farming on leased land before buying two farms in 1916. His rise was made possible by assistance from the Transvaal Consolidated Land and Exploration Company (TCL), a massive company owned by the powerful mining company, Corner House. By 1924 he claimed to be the largest (individual) maize farmer in the world” (Morrel, 1988).

We can start with mining procurement. How many cabbageheads does the mine consume? Spinach? Milk? Meat? Pap? Juice? We can then work this backwards to calculate the number of hectares the community would require, to produce the crops, feed and livestock. Where there is enough primary produce we can move to the Agro-processing phase and create things like abattoirs, nurseries and cheese factories.

Mining houses use guar beans for their operations which they virtually import. Guar bean is a relatively easy crop to grow and doesn’t require a lot of water. It thrives in semi- arid conditions. Why don’t we have adjacent communities producing it and build simple factories to process it to powder and supply the mines?

A few years ago, the Dr Sam Moutsuenyane Rural Development Foundation was approached by commercial farmers from the North who had an interest in integrating the community to produce butternut, process it and export it as powder or purity. I visited their operations with Mme Angie Makwetla who was our Chairperson at the time. The project promised to absorb a huge chunk of the unemployed youth in the surrounding community and earn foreign currency.

How are the mines going to spend the 5% equity equivalent for community development? What can we learn from Zambia’s Copperbelt ghost towns? The platinum strike in north west is a classical case study of what happens to communities that rely on mining, what happens to the local economy without mining? How can we avoid the ghost towns and ensure communities continue to thrive after the mine’s lifespan?

The department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery is leading a hemp inter-ministerial committee. Hemp is an industrial crop which we can produce and create export (we can create a rural driven pharmaceutical industry!) industries. We have recently legalised private use of marijuana. Governments around the world are set to earn billions of dollars in taxes from its use. The Coca-Cola Company products are consumed at more than 1.9 billion drinks per day. The most recognised brand in the world is going to sell marijuana infused drinks. What’s stopping us from being one of the leading suppliers? What about the carbon economy and offsets? Imagine our communities using the land to plant trees and earn dividends! The opportunities to revive the rural economy are endless. Our universities can produce a lot of PhD papers on opportunities we are presented with.

Mines could provide the land required, comply with the new procurement requirements and provide capital. There is a house song I like by Fish Go Depp and Tracey K called The cure and the cause. I think mining as one of the “cause” can eventually “cure” us of the land headache, mining has the anecdote.

While the mood is sombre because of the land question. I’m bursting with excitement at the possibility of an equitable and prosperous South Africa post land reform.

In keeping with the spirit of the celebrations of the great son of the soil Bantu Stephen Biko: “We regard our living together not as an unfortunate mishap warranting endless competition among us but as a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters jointly involved in the quest for a composite answer to the varied problems of life”.

This is a clarion call for my fellow countrymen, for us to come together as South Africans and solve the land question. The world witnessed a miraculous transition in 1994 contrary to the popular view. It’s time for all of us to dig deep and find the Madiba in us. How best to honour him during the centenary than to hold hands and work together? There is a beautiful future that awaits us. Let us all make South Africa a better place for future generations. Let us show the world how we are going to rise from the ashes and shackle of colonialism and catapult to the the world stage as a beacon of hope and developed nation.

In the words of William Shakespeare:

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

My fellow countrymen, “On such a full sea are we now afloat”! DM

Paul Ntshabele is an Agronomist, Businessman and Chairperson of the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation.


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