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Land reform a podium pipe dream

NEWS ANALYSIS

The ANC faces the prospect of going into next year’s general election without having covered any real ground in addressing the burning issue of land reform and restitution.

In his budget speech on Wednesday, the embattled finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, announced that the department of rural development and land reform has set aside R4.2-billion for the acquisition of 291 000 hectares of “strategically located land” .

He said that, over the medium term, the department intends to accelerate the settlement of restitution claims with plans to finalise 2 851 claims at a budgeted amount of R10.8-billion.

Gigaba’s announcement follows pronouncements by Cyril Ramaphosa, who, speaking as the ANC’s president in East London in January, reiterated the party’s resolution taken at its 54th national conference to expropriate land without compensation.

Ramaphosa said the ANC conference “underlined how profoundly the dispossession of the indigenous people of this country of their land has contributed to poverty, hardship, unemployment and social dislocation” .

He repeated the call for expropriation of land without compensation in his maiden State of the Nation address last week and in his reply to the debate on Sona this week.

Although he has been bold in making the pronouncements, Ramaphosa has been careful not to upset the fragile markets and economy by adding that whatever measures the ANC would take would be in line with the Constitution.

He was silent on whether the ANC would be seeking to amend section 25 of the Constitution, which provides that property may only be expropriated “subject to compensation”.

This has been the emotional game the ANC has been playing on the subject since it took over the reins of government in May 1994: lots of hard talk with little action after the militant speeches.

Ever since the ruling party began to show signs of decline in support — at the polls in the 2014 general election and in the 2016 local government elections — the party’s leaders have ramped up the rhetoric.

In 2016, Parliament approved the Land Expropriation Bill, which gives the state extended powers to expropriate land for the purposes of redistribution.

The Bill mirrors the Constitution and provides that just and equitable compensation must be paid for expropriated land. Then-president Jacob Zuma delayed signing the Bill into law as opposition to the proposed statute mounted and because of the threat of major repercussions for the economy and foreign investment.

The Bill was eventually signed into law but then Zuma made an about-turn and sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration after opposition parties threatened to head to the courts to challenge the constitutionality of sections of the Bill.

At the party’s 105th celebrations in Soweto last year, Zuma made what was arguably the boldest statement about land expropriation by a sitting head of state.

Zuma said it was “heinous” that the majority of citizens occupied only 13% of the land and went a step further by warning that government would that year, 2017, begin to redistribute land using the Expropriation of Land Act. But there was no action to follow up on his threat.

Yet the process of land reform continues to favour beneficiaries of land dispossession and disadvantage its victims and their kin. They have had to settle for crumbs from the office of the commission for the restitution of land rights and the department of rural development and land reform, which offer meagre payouts in an attempt to right the wrongs of the past.

In 2016, on the 103rd anniversary of the passing of the 1913 Native Land Act, the minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, said during the first lodgement period for claims (1995 to 1998), more than 79 000 claims were lodged and, of those, 78 750 were settled.

He said land acquired by the state amounted to 1 900 913 hectares.

Nkwinti also announced that a total of R16-billion had been spent on the restitution programme in settling claims — R10-billion had been spent to acquire land and R6-billion had been used for the settlement of financial compensation claims.

Despite all the billions spent only a tiny fraction of the bigger problem has been addressed. The land audit report of last year showed that, of the farm and agricultural land owned by individuals, 72% is held by white people and only 4% is owned by black people.

Land rights activist Vasco Mabunda, of the Nkuzi Development Association, said that, given the rate government was going, it would take at least 143 years to deal with the issue of restitution.

Government would need at least R600-billion to settle all existing claims fully and those that are still to follow, he added. — Mukurukuru Media

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Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.

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