Charting a new path for land reform

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State land alone is simply not enough to redress land reform. In a country where the majority of the population is black – it is a bitter pill to swallow that only 1-2% of black farmers operate in the commercial space.

These are just some of the hard, yet sobering truths noted by the Advisory Panel on Land Reform as it traversed the country in its quest to develop a comprehensive policy perspective that will drive land reform in the country.

The panel, which was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, supports the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Land Reform, which is chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza.

It is tasked with the review, research and proposal of models for government to implement a fair and equitable land reform process.

In light of the South African context that is marred with colonial land dispossession, a spanner is thrown in the works of the panel as the land reform process must redress the injustices of the past, increase agricultural output, promote economic growth and protect food security.

With a deadline to submit its policy perspective to the IMC by 15 March 2019, it is clear there is no easy and uniform solution to land reform.

That’s according to the Advisory Panel’s chairperson, Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati.

In an interview with SAnews following the panel’s six months of work, Mahlati highlights key issues emanating from the various and diverse engagements.

Firstly, she highlights that the process of land reform based on its three pillars; land restitution; redistribution and tenure reform – has been poorly managed.

“Part of the tension at this point, is based on the fact that we have not managed them [land reform issues] well in the past and we are now having to think very deeply about these complex issues,” said Mahlati.

While the picture may seem bleak at first, Mahlati says progress is being made.

“At the end of the day the case is made that with all those problems, to a greater extent there has been more progress with land restitution than there has been with the other two legs,” she says.

But to make more progress, there needs to be an improvement in legislation, understanding of the various groups that exist and establishing a fourth pillar to land reform.

Land expropriation and land reform legislation

On land expropriation, Mahlati says while part of the panel’s work is partly informed by a resolution of Parliament to consider expropriation of land without compensation, current legislation is found wanting.

“The Expropriation Act of 1975 itself precedes the Constitution and what that Constitution instructs.

“With redistribution we don’t even have the legislation that guides redistribution,” she says.

Mahlati says to fill in the gaps, the panel is of the view that there needs to be an overarching framework on land reform.

“We need a revised white paper and we need a sort of an umbrella national land reform framework, which covers issues of the past – of dispossession, addresses spatial transformation, issues of agrarian reform, climate change and economic considerations.”

According to the panel, an umbrella framework will assist in addressing issues of both the urban and rural population.

“We are sitting with 80% of our society living in the rural areas and townships and you know who that is, I don’t have to tell you.

“And within the urban and peri-urban population, 83% of the urban population living resides on 2% of the land. So when you look at an umbrella framework it needs to take all those issues and begin to address that,” says Mahlati.

Equally, the proposed framework needs to take economic considerations, which will allow for South Africa to compete, into account.

All the while, allowing the majority of the people – black people – to be at the centre of that competition.

While the umbrella framework is a long term goal, the panel proposes amendments of land restitution.

“We are specifically talking to the Land Restitution Bill, Land Records Bill and very broadly the Land Administration Act that we need to come up with,” says Mahlati.

Land administration as the third pillar of land reform

Additionally, the panel having noted the exorbitant costs that govern land administration, proposes the introduction of land administration as the fourth pillar of land reform.

Under this pillar, issues of record of rights and ownership would be among the issues addressed.

Agrarian reform

Reflecting on the discussions held with farmers, Mahlati emphasised that agrarian reform is at the centre of land reform and thus far it is evident that state land is simply not enough.

“It is clear that the state land is not enough. You have to touch on the existing commercial land,” she says.

Mahlati’s comment backs the view of Ben Cousins who heads the University of the Western Cape’s Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS).

Cousins makes the point that 60% of commercial farm land must be distributed in order to address inequality and environmental change.

With agrarian reform being central to land reform, it also has to address commercial farming and household food security.

“We are sitting with high levels of food insecurity at household level and we need to make sure we address that.”

Equally, Mahlati says, agrarian reform must make room for aspirant farmers to tap into commercial production which is currently monopolised by white farmers with only a handful of black farmers making the cut.

“We are sitting now with less than 5%. It is hovering around 1 – 2%  of commercial production being the participants by black farmers so commercial production in the form of the large farmers is dominated by white farmers so we cannot allow a situation where that continues unabated.”

Debates, proposals and issues emerging from colloquiums

From the colloquiums, issues of traditional leadership and land ownership, women and land, and the lack of financing of land reform are some of the issues that will find expression in the draft policy.

Traditional ownership

From a traditional perspective, Mahlati says traditional leaders recognise the custodian role in terms of owning on behalf of a community.

But, they raise several issues, including that of the homestead as not just a house but a place of burial, a place of rituals and customs.

Looking at issues of developmental land in terms agriculture, farming and tourism development, the traditional leaders proposed that individuals lease land from their respective traditional leaders so they can get involved in various forms of enterprise.

Land board

In a bid to create transparency, the panel in their discussions with traditional leaders, proposed that a land board be established.

The board would comprise of the traditional leaders, community and external people that would monitor issues around the allocation of land, how decisions are made and adherence to environmental issues.

Women and land

On the issues of women and land ownership, particularly from the traditional perspective, Mahlati says there has been a mixed response.

“There are others that are strongly saying as much as I have issues, I appreciate the issue of communal ownership because if you were to give a free title to an individual, that individual can sell that piece of land and all of us could be homeless,” she says.

On the other hand, women are concerned about the patriarchal nature of decision-making and the structure of society, particularly at the traditional, rural level.

“In a sense they want to make sure there are spaces that are created to address that.

“The truth of the matter is that about two thirds of women are leading households and their voice becomes critical,” says Mahlati.

With the mammoth task of drafting a comprehensive policy that encapsulates all views and is inclusive, it is yet to be seen the mould that the policy will take.

Mahlati is sure of one thing – there is no cookie cutter model that will fit South African land reform but rather a mixed bag that is inclusive of all citizens.

Once delivered and perused by the IMC, the draft will make its way back to the panel for polishing before it is delivered to the President.

Please note that this opinion piece by Keamogetse Kgomanyane was first published on SAnews.gov.za