/ 31 January 2014

Right of reply: Land policy elitism smear far off track

The rural development department insists that its land strategy over the next five years will prioritise smallholders
The rural development department insists that its land strategy over the next five years will prioritise smallholders

I refer to the Mail & Guardian comment piece titled "ANC land policies: Talk left, walk right?", in which reference is made to policies developed by the department of rural development and land reform.

Contrary to the perception that the department released its policies "without publicity" and that they were "developed with little or no consultation with stakeholders" and were reminiscent of "state paternalism", there was extensive consultation over 22 months to November 2013.

Several rural nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) participated and continue to participate in work on the details arising from the green paper on land reform. Among these are the land tenure security policy for commercial farming areas and the communal land tenure policy.

These two policies deal with farm dwellers' and workers' tenure and their rights to land and development, as well as those of communities living in traditional communal areas.

Furthermore, a number of such institutions, including the Institute for Poverty and Agrarian Studies itself, have made submissions on the green paper and legislation gazetted for public comment. It is thus wrong for senior officials of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy to state that policies were released without publicity, sufficient communication and in a "paternalistic" manner.

Its learned colleagues have made a habit of peddling misinformation. On a number of occasions, Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti and departmental director general Mdu Shabane have asked them to partake in the policy process, but they recused themselves.

In line with the principle of "equitable access to land across race, gender and class", South Africa will continue to support various beneficiaries, including those bordering on being commercial farmers, communal owners, farm workers, co-operatives and labour tenants.

South Africans interested in farming, who are affluent and need additional land, are allowed to apply, but to call the programmes "elitist" or create the impression that it is primarily such persons that we have given land to is incorrect.

Over the next five years, the department is targeting the delivery of four million hectares to smallholder farmers. Furthermore, the integrated implementation plan for the animal and veld management programme, launched by the minister in August 2013, targets the release of 25 farms per province from state land for the purpose of decongesting communal areas and addressing the needs of performing smallholders who need additional land and performing ­subsistence farmers who are ready to be graduated to smallholders.

These area-based approaches and the implied subdivision of property suggests a clear smallholder strategy that also addresses the creation of job opportunities in soil rehabilitation and greening these areas.

The learned professors call for a smallholder strategy, yet describe as "ludicrous and anti-poor" an approach that will set a minimum amount of land, as suggested by the agricultural land holdings policy framework.

We have further proposed to commercial farmers that they consider a solution to the impasse, and make land available for farmworkers and farm dwellers. They have responded relatively positively and the details are to be teased out. If a deal is reached, it would be historic.

In addition, it is misrepresentation of the policy to state that "traditional leadership is being given greater powers of land administration".

The intention of policy in this area is to regulate decision-making on land administration, management and development, as well as what happens to the proceeds from ­enterprises developed on these lands.

The policy proposes three fundamental instruments that have the potential to shift power relations in favour of the community, as the Constitution intends. These are decisions on land based on substantive quorums indicated by household representation rather than numbers attending decision meetings, and the policy further proposes that household rights to land are clearly demarcated to realise "communal land with institutionalised use rights".

Portion allotments to households, the commons and strategic natural resources will be subdivided and the rights to these clearly specified.

This is the substance of the policy, and how "power is being transferred to traditional leaders" is known only to our learned colleagues.

Whatever institution is in place, whether it be a traditional leader or communal property association or both, the substantive issue is the power of decision-making and where it lies. Indeed, the risk will be in the practice and the existing imbalance of power, and it is here that rural NGOs and community-based organisations have a critical role to play.

Hilton Toolo is head of policy ­development in the department of rural development and land reform.