Malema sparks land debate

Land sector commentators have widely criticised ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s call for the expropriation of white-owned farm land without compensation.

They said that the failure of the government’s willing-buyer, willing-seller model had paved the way for the increasing popularity of Malema’s call but there were many other options.

Ruth Hall, a senior researcher at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) based at the University of the Western Cape, said that land reform had not been among the government’s top priorities and had attracted relatively modest budgets compared with other programmes combating poverty. Its reliance on buying land at full market prices was not only enormously expensive but also a slow and bureaucratic process, which had resulted in many farmers opting to sell to buyers other than the government.

“Undoubtedly, South Africa’s experience demonstrates the limitations of a willing-buyer, willing-seller approach to land reform, and this has been aggravated by the fact that, owing to policies of agricultural deregulation, many of the support systems for farmers—subsidies, regulation and marketing support—that existed in the past to support white farmers now no longer exist.

“Politically, the government is caught between competing imperatives: wanting to redistribute more and meet its targets, and concern that this may put farms out of production. One result has been a shift towards giving land to beneficiaries better positioned to fund their own farming—the emerging black commercial farmers.”

Hall said that the 30% target adopted in 1994 was based on World Bank calculations—based on optimistic projections of cheap land—and initially presumed that all farms offered for sale would be bought for land reform.

“This was never a realistic option and signalled the faith of the bank’s economists in their own models rather than on the feasibility of implementing such an option,” she said. “In practice, nothing of the sort has been possible.”

‘Obstructing land reform’
A statement issued by Agri SA this week said that commercial farmers could not be accused of obstructing land reform or treated as though their farms had been unlawfully acquired.

“Julius Malema’s inflammatory statements should by no means serve as justification for the state to deprive farmers of their land or to pay negligible, if any, compensation in the event of expropriation. This is an extremely conflicting approach that could hold catastrophic implications for investor confidence, food security and job creation,” Theo de Jager, the deputy president of Agri SA, said.

“The economic politics advocated by Malema have already been experimented with elsewhere, with disastrous results, which speaks volumes to any objective and realistic observer. Zimbabwe is one example of the outcome that such a policy could produce. With similar experiments, South Africa will also not be unable to escape large-scale collapse.” He said the call to scrap the willing-buyer, willing-seller approach wrongly identified the problems, which were “corruption, nepotism and mismanagement”.

Thabo Manyathi, of the Association for Rural Advancement, said that the willing-buyer, willing-seller model ended up being a “rescue programme” for farmers who were dumping land that was unproductive and not worth the price.

He said there were constitutional provisions for land expropriation with compensation, especially for public purposes, but the government was dragging its feet because it could be viewed internationally as Zimbabwe-style land grabs and was afraid of the repercussions. “Schools on farmland, for example, could be expropriated to guarantee continued education because farmers could close those schools at any time,” said Manyathi.

“Land can also be expropriated for the building of clinics to alleviate long distances between health services and rural dwellers.”

Manyathi concurred that there was little support for small or emerging farmers. They were not being mentored and were being let down by the systems meant to support them. Someone with first-hand experience of this neglect is Patrick Mojapelo, the Limpopo chairman of the Landless People’s Movement.

Help and solutions
“They do not come to people who are experiencing problems,” Mojapelo said. “I myself was a beneficiary to a farm that is selling fodder. Agricultural officers have been here in great numbers but they cannot help us increase production because they themselves do not have enough experience in this. They need to be helping us find solutions to our business models but they cannot.”

Mojapelo said the movement viewed the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy as “a position” and it encouraged white landowners to think that they didn’t have to sell land if they did not want to. “That policy should have been scrapped a long time ago,” he said. “We called for the scrapping of that at the previous land summit [in 2005].

“We believe the government should evaluate land independently and compensate the current owners.”

Manyathi said that the reason for “nonexistent” support structures was because the Land Claims Commission and the department of rural development and land reform had separate accounting offices and no joint system for dealing with agricultural issues. “You will find that the Land Claims Commission is busy processing a claim for land while the department of rural development and land reform is buying the same land for tenants. So you could have two competing claims that create a conflict of interest, which in turn ends up delaying the claims.

‘When beneficiaries were given agricultural land, they did not receive proper and co-ordinated support because, in provinces like KwaZulu-Natal, the mandate for rural development sits with both the departments of land reform and environmental affairs. This results in duplication of work and competition over the rural development mandate.”

Manyathi said that there should be specific programmes for small-scale farmers and those who wanted to produce commercially.

The department of rural development and land reform has also been beset by rumours of internal turmoil over its links with the Land Claims Commission. Departmental spokesperson Eddie Mohoebi said that the two structures were not merging but were merely realigning their processes to be more streamlined, as the commission had been operating differently under the Restitution Act.

In 2006, the government introduced the proactive land acquisition strategy through which it has bought 629 129 hectares at a total cost of R3.7-billion to make available on a leasehold basis. But, according to the department’s 2010 database, most of the farms bought do not have any beneficiaries listed—only 370 households are cited as having access to this land.

Hall said that this raised big questions, including who the land was going to, how much land a family could get, how much public money was reasonable to spend on each family, how many people were able to pay for their leases and what was happening when they couldn’t?

“A broader point is that as a society we should be debating the role of the state in holding land and, if this is to be the model of the future, some realism is going to be needed about what it will take to ensure management of the land the state acquires.

“So far, the state has shown itself to be quite effective at acquiring land but much less effective at managing it or ensuring accountability for income from it.”

The department of rural development and land reform has received four consecutive qualified audits over its inability to account for income from leases on state land.

Mohoebi said that, following key stakeholder meetings in November 2010 and May 2011, the department had developed strategic programmes and initiatives to ensure the success of land reform, including a recapitalisation and development programme.

He said the department had already recapitalised 411 farms and was in the process of revitalising 27 irrigation schemes.

“This year alone we intend recapitalising 387 land-reform projects. Established black farmers are very critical in complementing the ageing cadre of established commercial farmers and providing food security for the country. Critical to their sustained competitiveness and profitability will be a well-structured support package combining risk equity and government support.”

Kwanele Sosibo is the Eugene Saldanha fellow in social justice reporting, sponsored by CAF Southern Africa

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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