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Editorial: Nail the farm-flippers

As South Africans remain transfixed by political machinations, the hotbed issue of land has taken a back seat, for now.

The controversial Land Expropriation Bill still has to make its way through both houses of Parliament, committees and public comment before a finalised version finds its way onto the desk of the president. The debate about this piece of legislation has been well ventilated. The only aspect most South Africans can agree on is black South Africans’ frustration with the pace of land reform.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been at pains to assure investors that land expropriation will proceed in a responsible manner, insisting it will not negatively affect food security, investment or agricultural production.

Over 25 years of democracy, the government’s attempts at land restitution have been lambasted for their slow pace and all-round inefficiency.

One such initiative is the proactive land acquisition strategy, a policy in which the government purchases farms in distress to be leased to emerging black farmers until the farms become self-sustainable. This goes hand in hand with the recapitalisation and development programme, where a strategic partner is brought on board to mentor emerging farmers and to provide the support necessary to help ensure the success of the venture.

So far, so good.

But throw into the mix a few corrupt businessmen and their equally corrupt partners in government and the ideal of land reform becomes a mockery. The Mail & Guardian, in conjunction with TV programme Special Assignment, this week exposes one such scheme where millions of rands have been lost.

The rot goes all the way to the top. The former minister of rural development and land reform, Gugile Nkwinti, and his former head of security, Dumisani Luphungela, have been implicated, along with other politically connected individuals, disparagingly referred to as “comrades-in-farms”.

The people who lost their land and hopes in this single instance of corruption are mirrored across South Africa. Land reform is littered with the stories of so many disenfranchised black South Africans.

These elections have seen even the ANC beg the electorate for “one last chance” to get it right. Despite the betrayals by those entrusted with leading a nation, laid bare through the various commission of inquiry, the elections nonetheless saw a majority of South Africans agree to that one last chance.

In justifying the Land Expropriation Act, Ramaphosa insisted that land was at the core of the formation of the ANC in 1912. Through their actions, too many ANC deployees have betrayed the roots of their organisation and a nation for whom land is so much more than earth sifting between our fingers.

For the sake of a nation desperate for hope, bring the thieves to book.

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