Op-Ed: South Africa’s land policy confusion is disingenuous and dangerous

PUBLISHED: Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:40:02 GMT
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By Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst, NKC African Economics 

The only issue that became crystal clear after the first day of a discussion forum on land redistribution and expropriation in Johannesburg on Tuesday, March 27, was that the African National Congress (ANC) has once again opened a Pandora’s box by plunging into the issue of land seizure without compensation. The ANC does not seem to have considered the consequences.

The gathering – National Forum for Dialogue on Land, Heritage and Human Rights – brought together land owners, farmers, political activists and the government for a forum on the thorny issue of land and ownership. The forum was designed to seek common ground on the way forward in an environment characterised by mistrust.

Contributors included Constitutional Review Committee member Mathole Motshekga, advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi, large scale farmers, members of the African Farmers Association of South Africa and the new minister of mineral resources Gwede Mantashe.

This is a critical and unavoidable debate and we need to find lasting and just solutions or we face another crisis that will dwarf the Zuma debacle. But there appears to be little prospect that this second bite at the cherry is going to produce anything more substantial than it did: a generalised, unconvincing communique that anticipates further talks.

Mantashe attempted to outline government’s thinking on the issue but left the impression that it remained muddled and confused. Mantashe has clearly been tasked with managing the land debate rather than leaving it to the incoherent minister of land reform and rural development, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who claimed to be preparing a test case to expropriate land without compensation without bothering to wait for Parliament to complete its constitutional review process.

“We cannot wait for Parliament,” she said. “If we need to expropriate your land, we are going to do that, because it is in the Constitution… there are elements that say, if you live in Brussels and you are using the land that should feed my children for speculation, we will do that.”

Local media reported Nkoana-Mashabane then added that her department had already identified the test case land to be expropriated but would not disclose where it was because that would tip off the current owners to prepare a legal challenge to the illegal land grab.

Instead of adopting the spirit of dialogue and finding common solutions, this is the attitude of the minister in charge of land reform: to hell with Parliament, they are too slow, and we need to sneak up on people so that their right to legal recourse is derailed.

No wonder Mantashe was called in – but, while far more coherent, he often appeared equally confused. Mantashe said a debate was needed on the concept of expropriation and whether it was a legitimate term given that the land was taken in the first place.

Restoration was not expropriation, he said, adding that greedy farmers who own large portions of land will be dealt with first as government moves to expropriate land.

“South Africans are hungry for land and some white farmers are greedy and buy more land as it becomes available… When a person is greedy and takes every piece of land for himself, that person should be the first for expropriation because he doesn’t need land.”

But Mantashe also stated quite clearly that land redistribution will be done in a responsible manner: “We must ensure that we do not undermine future investment in the economy, or damage agricultural production and food security.”

He attempted to address some of the wider policy fears around the issue by saying that it was not a policy to drive white people into the sea. “That is not the policy. It will never be the policy of the ANC, unless the ANC becomes something else.”

The attitudes and outrageous opinions of ministers such as Nkoana-Mashabane encourage lawlessness and ultimately confrontation as she talks of sidestepping a slow legal parliamentary process and looking for ways to undermine the legal rights of people about to be dispossessed by the State.

How is that any different from the communities around Hermanus in the Western Cape, and others in Gauteng, who this week illegally occupied land because Parliament was too slow and current owners have too many legal rights?

But Mantashe wants the law to take its course against these illegal invasions that he strongly condemned.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will continue to use the ANC’s policy incoherence to encourage fresh land grabs that have two consequences – they will inevitably become violent and racially polarising, and they will seriously hinder any constructive and ultimately necessary debate over the issue of land reform and ownership.

It will also have negative economic and investment consequences despite what Mantashe believes.

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