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Rural development trashes DA’s land reform claims

The Democratic Alliance’s claim that the Western Cape, which it governs, has outperformed all other provinces in implementing land reform is untrue, and the national government should be credited with the success of land redistribution and restitution, the department of rural development and land reform said this week.

“It is the only department which has a land redistribution programme in the country, that is agricultural land. The DA does not perform this function,” the department’s spokesperson, Linda Page, said this week. “It is a baseless claim. And so, if the Western Cape has outperformed other provinces it is because the programmes under the department have performed well in the Western Cape.”

For nearly three years, the DA has claimed that its provincial government runs the best land reform programme in the country and has used this success to argue that expropriation of land without compensation is not necessary.

It has also claimed the Western Cape has undertaken the best agricultural and land tenure reforms, and has overseen the most compensation paid out, or the re-allocation of land, to victims of the 1913 Native Land Act and apartheid’s 1950 Group Areas Act. The claim originated in 2015 when a DA MP in the province, Beverley Schäfer, said: “The Western Cape government has by far the highest success rate in all three components to land reform: redistribution, tenure reform and restitution.”

This was repeated in a statement by DA leader Mmusi Maimane last month in response to Parliament passing a motion for the investigation of expropriation of land without compensation.

“More than just supporting these reform and restitution efforts, we can proudly lay claim to having the best track record of any party in South Africa in actually giving effect to this commitment where we govern,” he said. “Land reform projects under DA governments have a success rate six times higher than nationally.”

A month earlier the DA’s rural development and land reform spokesperson, Thandeka Mbabama, proudly proclaimed in a statement: “In the DA-led Western Cape, our approach has accelerated the pace of land reform and led to the success of 62% of all land reform farms. Where the ANC governs, their success rate is only 10%.”

But this assertion fails to point out that the ANC’s track record of 10% is the average percentage of the successful land reform projects in all eight provinces where it governs.

Schäfer was reacting to an announcement by Deputy Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha that the Western Cape had the most successful land reform projects in the country. But the department said the deputy minister was only highlighting his own department’s success.

But Western Cape MEC Alan Winde said the reason for the Western Cape’s success was because of the provincial government’s follow-up support.

The department of rural development and land reform bought 297 farms between 2004 and 2014 in the province and left the new farmers/owners to fend for themselves, Winde said.

“The support is given by our extension officers who go out on to farms, look at needs, problems, and give advice to our ‘commodity grouping’. These are a group of experts who take care of items such as table grapes, wheat, fruit and sheep farmers — items we classify as commodities.”

The group assessed each farm’s needs, provided funding from the national government allocation, mentored farmers and helped with their business plans.

Winde said the success in land reform was primarily a result of his department’s assistance, which led to 62% of these farms turning a profit under solid management.

“And we conducted an independent survey to see if they are compliant, have marketing, proper controls and financial management,” he added.

The Western Cape government’s approach — extension officers and commodity grouping — had enabled land reform while guaranteeing food security, he said.

But hundreds of other farmers had been excluded because they were not awarded leases.

[Possie of my own: Pelican Park has become home, with title deeds, to people who’ve been on the waiting list for houses for about 20 or 30 years. (David Harrison)]

“We have guys calling us and saying the government gave him land but didn’t give him a lease, so he can’t get to the bank or get any other finance, there’s no support. And we can’t spend taxpayers money on that kind project until the lease is granted,” he said.

All the money used to support farmers comes from the national government, which allocated R500-million to the Western Cape for five years.

Winde said his department was simply managing the projects well.

He was more optimistic about private equity farms where farm owners have set up share ownership schemes with employees to “get rid of the ownership risk”.

“Just as they are prepared to invest in insurance, surely they are prepared to invest in black ownership so that risk goes away. And we [government] need to invest in this.”

Page said that land restitution in the Western Cape has been exclusively implemented by the national government. In the department of rural development and land reform-led flagship, the District Six land claim, some residents have received new homes on the land where they once lived.

Pelican Park, De Lille’s legacy

The streets of Cape Town’s Pelican Park wind between rows of two-bedroom houses and duplexes stacked tightly together. Each home has a 10m backyard, a 5m lawn in front, a wall and 0.5m of pavement. Subsidised or RDP homes don’t have garages; these are provided for houses that will be bought.

The suburb is home to the poor and middle class and was heralded by the local government as mayor Patricia de Lille’s flagship housing project for people who’ve been on the waiting list for decades. But it’s been plagued by complaints of poor construction and a lack of space by residents who were moved into new houses from other areas on the Cape Flats such as Mitchells Plain, Retreat, Lavender Hill — and even as far as Knysna.

According to Pelican Park community leader John Bailey: “Most of the people living in the RDPs and the subsidised houses have been on the list for 20 or 30 years. And some of the people on the list don’t even stay in Cape Town anymore. They were moved out during apartheid and haven’t found a home since then; this is the first time they have a house again.

“The mayor is extremely popular here and you can definitely say this is her legacy project,” he added.

The mixed-income neighbourhood was constructed by the City of Cape Town and the provincial government from 2004. There are about 4 000 homes on an 80-hectare plot of land next to the Zeekoevlei in Grassy Park.

The area boasts modern style houses, new roads and a clinic. A community centre is under construction.

Just a few years old, Pelican Park is the quintessential example of the Democratic Alliance’s housing strategy in Cape Town, and a stronghold for party support in the elections. In the 2016 polls, the DA scored nearly 90% of the vote, and on the neighbourhood’s streets, residents often walk around in DA T-shirts.

The Western Cape has issued 91 000 title deeds to new home owners since it took over governance of the metro in 2009, the most in any province, said department of human settlements spokesperson Xolani Xundu.

Western Cape leader Bonginkosi Madikizela said Pelican Park is part of the province’s Integrated Residential Development Programme and was designed in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity.

“In the past and in many parts of the country the emphasis is on dotting the landscape, building houses and allocating them to people without title deeds. In the Western Cape we [place] emphasis on property ownership, not just provision of shelter,” he said. — Govan Whittles

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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