/ 10 August 2018

Editorial: Give clarity on land restitution

The successful candidate for the social justice reporting fellowship will pen pieces that go beyond statistics
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Oh for a time machine to take the ruling party back 10 years to do the job of land reform when the economic times and outlook were rosier. Much rosier.

The economy was growing, there was fiscal space in the budget, state capture and its attendant catastrophes were years off and state enterprises were still in reasonable shape.

Now, the raided public purse is bare, the consumer is under attack, state entities want more handouts and private business cannot hold itself up as any kind of example: think Steinhoff, McKinsey, SAP and KPMG.

One case this week has Limpopo farmer David Rakgase going to court to force government to sell a farm to him, which he has been leasing for 27 years.

Land reform has never been just a nice-to-do. Both for reasons of equity and to provide a base for economic growth, it has always been a have-to-do.

But, for reasons unclear, land restitution has never been allowed to take its place at the top, or at least as a priority, of the policy agenda.

Under Jacob Zuma, when he was president, perhaps this is understandable because his agenda, we now know, was brazenly to benefit himself, his associates and a narrow elite.

With the Democratic Alliance in disarray, self-imploding over its Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, and unable to articulate its position on black empowerment, it has been left to the Economic Freedom Fighters to shape policy, at least on the land issue.

It prodded the ANC, at its elective conference in December, to adopt a new position on land reform that includes expropriation without compensation as a new policy option.

This is intended to be a selective intervention, expropriation to happen without jeopardising food security or the financing of farm production.

Our economic choices now are both limited and stark. Clarity and confidence are needed, not confusion. But the ANC stumbles along trying to manage a programme that should long since have been achieving significant results; it’s trying to encourage confidence but undermines it with ill-timed late-night messages.

One message from the ANC this week said 139 private farms had been targeted as cases to test paying below market value in land claims. On what basis have the 139 farms been chosen? Is this dormant land? Land acquired by force under apartheid?

Another, from the Twitter account of the head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, said state-owned land would be the first to be distributed.The two messages could not be more different.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, author of The Land Is Ours, has outlined in detail, including in articles for the Mail & Guardian, what win-win reform, which includes the option of expropriation, would look like. His model, which complies with the Constitution and the rule of law, puts the courts at the centre of the process to ensure that it is equitable. This means reform does much more than benefit a new elite, but rather shares the joy widely.

READ MORE: Land reform can be done reasonably