‘Hunger for land must be satisfied’

Land redistribution is being held up by owners unwilling to sell their property or farmers setting unreasonable prices for their land — and this must be changed, ANC Limpopo chairperson Stan Mathabatha told the Mail & Guardian.

“The kind of compensation that is given to Van der Merwe must not be dependent on Van der Merwe, it must be dependent on government, based on the valuation conducted by government, not these independent valuators who will come and tell you about the market forces, which are never definite,” said Mathabatha. He said his province would argue during debates on economic transformation that the government should set the price of land.

The debates on land reform in the economic transformation committee were expected to be the most fiercely contested, with differing views emerging along factional lines.

The gathering was set to discuss how to speed up land reform, with proposals to amend section 25 of the Constitution to allow for land to be expropriated without compensation failing to receive widespread support. The governing party decided to abandon the willing buyer, willing seller policy at its national general council in 2015, saying it has failed to produce results. In 2015, the rural development and land reform department found that 79% of the country’s land is in private hands.

Delegates from Limpopo and the Eastern Cape will argue that the limits of the current laws on land reform need to be tested, to see whether a constitutional amendment is necessary.

This would include a proposal for the ANC to adopt a policy that allows government to set the price tag on what is deemed “adequate” compensation, instead of it being set by the land valuer general or the seller.

North West ANC chairperson Premier Supra Mahumapelo agreed with his counterpart in Limpopo, calling for a “reconciliation price”.

“The proposal of North West is that the state [must] determine the price of the land. We call it the reconciliation price. It must create a win-win situation. If the land owner does not accept the price, we will take it without compensation,” he said.

Eastern Cape ANC chair Premier Phumulo Masualle said section 25 of the Constitution needed to be thoroughly tested, adding that compensation seemed to be the biggest stumbling block to implementing the ANC’s current land reform policy.

“We think that … we need to really test that matter because so far compensation has not yielded us the rapid transference of land that we would have envisaged. There is still land hunger by the majority, something we cannot sustain going forward,” Masualle said.

“Everything must be done to really explore, if needs be, even amendments where needed, so that there can be justice brought about insofar as the existing land hunger among the majority [is concerned],” the premier added.

While the policy conference has mostly focused on how to change the current policy, an assessment of the procedure through which land claims are processed will also be presented in the main plenary and commissions.

This process has already been criticised by President Jacob Zuma, who told traditional leaders last month that if it were up to him he would make it illegal for people to accept money instead of taking ownership of the land and cultivating it.

But the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal said it was unco-operative landowners, and not the bureaucratic process, which was frustrating redistribution.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala told the M&G land sellers have made unrealistic demands for compensation.

“The processes of land restitution started way back in 1996. Up until now some claims that have been lodged a long time ago have not been settled. It’s because there was a problem on the side of sellers who wanted to charge exorbitant fees and that undermined the process,” he said,

While his colleagues from other provinces were cautious, Zikalala believed the only way to fast-track land reform is through an amendment to the Constitution, to allow expropriation without compensation.

“Our view is that we must engage African-dominated parties in Parliament and review the Constitution. Transformation in this country has been frustrated in particular by those who are not co-operating and therefore we are forced to take decisions we never thought we’d take. And expropriation is one of those decisions.”

If expropriation without compensation was implemented, the money that would have been used to pay the landowners, Zikalala said, could be channelled towards emerging farmers. “Instead of paying to settle claims, government must support and direct all efforts to training, supporting mechanisation and supporting those who will work the land. They spend money to settle claims instead of supporting the farmers who must be trained and that’s what we must focus our efforts on.”

But the chair of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, said Zikalala’s motion for constitutional amendments would likely be defeated in the commissions and plenary.

“My sense is that a change of Constitution is off the table,” Godongwana said.

He acknowledged it was one of the most contested discussions happening at the policy conference.

Godongwana said he was not worried about the political considerations around the issue but rather the economic ones.

“First, it would aggravate concerns around policy certainty and impact investor confidence. Secondly, it can have spill-over effects in other sectors. For instance in the financial sector, the banks are R170-billion exposed to land,” he said.

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