/ 15 February 2024

‘The EFF’s manifesto solves the land crisis’

Eff Launches Election Manifesto At Moses Mabhida Stadium In South Africa
Floyd Shivambu, EFF deputy president, Julius Malema, EFF president and Marshall Dlamini, EFF Secretary-General at the Economic Freedom Fighters Election Manifesto Launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium on February 10, 2024 in Durban, South Africa. The manifesto launch provided a platform for the EFF to outline its plans for the 2024 national and provincial polls. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

One of the most influential intellectuals of the 18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, made profound reflections on the origins of inequality. In his Discourse On the Origin of Inequality Among Men, Rousseau said: 

“The first person who, having enclosed a plot of ground, took it into his head to say ‘this is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes would from how many horrors and misfortunes might not one have saved mankind, by pulling the stakes, or filled the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the Earth belong to all and the Earth to no one.”

The struggle for land in South Africa is a product of the above phenomenon, which involved a small group of imposters invading the territory with superior arms to those of the natives, killing and displacing the native, and appropriating to themselves the land and all the wealth on and beneath it. Every other social and economic ill in the country that we now know as South Africa emanates from these acts of colonial invasion and dispossession. 

The resolution of the land question lies primarily in disentangling these colonial tentacles and redefining the association between the land and humans. Few political actors have imagined the resolution of the land question along these conceptual lines, until the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

For 30 years, South Africa’s political elite’s failure to reimagine the land debate has led to a disastrous land reform programme, which has milked billions away from the state and failed to redress the colonial and apartheid crime of dispossession. 

In its founding manifesto, the EFF makes a bold proposition that to resolve the problems of racialised access to land, the government should expropriate land without paying compensation and ensure that this land is then redistributed equitably. The manifesto goes further and asserts that to eliminate the problem of hoarding of land by a minority that can afford to, private ownership of land would have to be abolished and replaced with state custodianship. The party’s manifestos have remained true to this vision of land. The 2024 national and provincial elections manifesto remains committed to these principles. 

The debate on the meaning and necessity for expropriating land without compensation was thoroughly dealt with when the EFF led a motion for the amendment of section 25 of the Constitution to permit expropriation of land without compensation. The rationale for state custodianship of land was also exhaustively explained save only to restate that the accumulation of land in the hands of a minority at the expense of the majority has deformed South African society. It has made a white minority rich for no other reason than that they are white and condemned the black majority to poverty for no other reason other than that they are black. 

Black pain and sweat continue to be fundamental to the evolution of white wealth, and black people have never been compensated for the loss of their land or for the cheap labour they rendered in the creation of white wealth. That which was appropriated by the colonialist must be returned to the natives, without compelling the natives to pay for what is theirs in the first place — hence expropriation without compensation.

The element of state custodianship of land is a recognition that society has evolved and that class exploitation intermingles with racial oppression to form a potent force of repression, whose victims remain most black people. Those with money, many of them white but with a tiny group of black people who have benefited from a close association with white capital, have amassed as much land as possible for themselves. The concentration of land in a few hands is a prime product of the privatisation of this inherently public resource. 

The 2017 land audit report by the department of agriculture, rural development and land reform lays bare this phenomenon. South Africa has a land surface of 122 million hectares, of which 114 million hectares (94%) is registered at the Deeds Office. Of the land registered at the Deeds Office, 90% — 89.5 million hectares — are owned by individuals, companies and trusts. The report found that many individual owners are also part of the companies and trusts. 

The EFF manifesto aims to dismantle this concentration of land in the hands of a few and distribute it as equitably as possible for a range of needs. The state is the most logical representation of people because it is a product of the choices people make on how society should be organised. Placing the land in the hands of the state is therefore placing the land in the hands of the people. There must be clear rules on how the state should exercise its powers over land. Hence the manifesto proposes the establishment of a state entity responsible for administering the land; a land ombud who would be responsible for resolving disputes between the people and the state; and the establishment of a land court to have exclusive jurisdiction over matters related to land. Under this arrangement, the land ceases to be a commodity for sale and purchase but rather becomes a common resource for the benefit of all. Ownership is replaced by land use rights, which are themselves material and cannot be easily disposed of without a reasonable intent and procedure.

The land restitution component of the current land reform programme has proved to be a failure. It is a failure because it was poorly conceptualised, and the state is now stuck with thousands of land claims that it cannot settle. The EFF’s land restoration programme will be driven through a targeted land redistribution programme. 

The EFF proposes that all land must be used to its maximum capacity. This will happen through targeted interventions. The first of these is that land redistribution will be preceded by pre-settlement planning and followed by post-settlement support. Second, the EFF proposes legislation that would declare certain pieces of land as agricultural areas. This would prevent the conversion of prime agricultural land into residential land or even game reserves. Third, private companies that work with individuals and communities to develop land would be granted tax rebates. This will accelerate production and upskill those who have been granted land use rights.

Overall, the plan of action for resolving the land crisis in the EFF manifesto is the most comprehensive and far-reaching proposition for the resolution of the perennial land question. Implemented to its fullest, this plan would restructure the country’s entire landscape and present a refreshed land discourse, dominated by service to the most marginalised of society.

Lubabalo Ntsholo is a parliamentary researcher for the Economic Freedom Fighters.