Rural poor oppose land Bill

A wide range of organisations have gathered in Cape Town to ask Parliament not to pass the Communal Land Rights Bill, which they claim gives too much power to traditional leaders to the detriment of the rural poor.

At a media briefing on Monday these organisations, from all over the country, spoke uniformly on the their opposition to the Bill in its current form, but differed on how to lobby the government to accede to their demands.

“Civil society submissions on the bill have been overwhelmingly negative, but the Department of [Agriculture and] Land Affairs has seemingly ignored and have not responded to the concerns raised,” said Professor Ben Cousins of the Programme of Land and Agrarian Studies of the University of the Western Cape.

Cousins, who convened the media briefing with the National Land Committee, said the process to date was “deeply flawed, secretive and not consultative”.

Speakers at the briefing told of their frustration at the government, which seemed intent on steamrolling through legislation that was not widely publicised nor debated.

“We need a greater say to what should happen to our land, and it must be the responsibility of the people that live on it. [Tribal] chiefs mustn’t be given so much power ... because unscrupulous chiefs will take the land from the people and give it to the developers,” said Richard Siwela from Limpopo.

Several delegates said their community groups had decided not to vote should the government press ahead with the Bill.

“We are frustrated at what is happening.
If the Bill goes through ... then they [the government] are taking advantage of us and the LPM is not going to vote,” said Mangaliso Kubheka of the Landless People’s Movement.

But Sipho Dlamini of the Mpumalanga Consultative Group on Land said that they could not tell people whether or not to vote, saying it remained an individual’s decision.

“We will use other strategies to voice our dissatisfaction, such as marches. We can’t compare the actions of the ruling African National Congress with that of the apartheid government,” he said.

Tandi from the former Transkei, who did not want to give her surname, said that land occupation was a strategy that would be used if the Bill was passed.

However, this was countered by Eddie Barnett of the Northern Cape’s Association for Community and Rural Advancement, who said that his organisation followed whatever government process to the letter of the law, so that “extreme actions” such as land occupations would be justified if the government was “intransigent”.

Yet another proposal was to approach the Constitutional Court should the Bill be passed.

What the delegates unanimously agreed on was that the Bill should be scrapped in its entirety and a new Bill drafted through wide-scale consultation with affected communities.

Cousins said delegates believed in the parliamentary process, which is why they would present their opposition to the Bill from Tuesday onwards.

“If government does listen to us, then it will be a victory for democracy,” he said.—Sapa

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