This could be the beginning of real land reform in SA

Having taken back the initiative from the EFF, the ANC has a unique chance to at last fulfil its historic mission and launch effective land reform

05 August 2018 - 00:00 By BEN COUSINS

President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement on Tuesday that the ANC will support an amendment to section 25 of the constitution caused an immediate fall in the value of the rand. Although the rand recovered somewhat thereafter, some observers saw this as "the beginning of the end for the sanctity of property rights in SA". According to these doomsayers, economic ruin will follow.
Others, possibly the majority of South Africans, will see this as a sign that the ANC is, at last, recovering its historic mission to overturn racialised inequality and poverty. This is the clear lesson from the nationwide public hearings convened by parliament's constitutional review committee.
The anger and frustration of ordinary black South Africans are plain to see, as a result of the government's failure to change patterns of land ownership but also its poor performance in delivering jobs, houses and services.
The outcomes of the constitutional review process, however, are still uncertain.
If the amendment of section 25 involves only making it "explicit and clear" that there are cases where expropriation of land does not require any compensation, as the ANC says, then the EFF will not vote for the amendment.The EFF is pushing for all land targeted for land reform to be acquired through expropriation without compensation - in effect, confiscation. It also wants nationalisation of land, framed as "land under the custodianship of the state", and a leasehold system.
But it is not at all clear that ordinary South Africans are in favour of such policies, which are populist in character and could easily result in elite capture on a grand scale. As the Zuma era has taught all of us, elite capture brings no benefits to the poor.
The EFF cannot vote for a clarificatory amendment without losing face. The ANC, on the other hand, is unlikely to agree with the EFF's "radical" proposals, however attractive they are to its state capture faction.
The cool heads in the party, which includes the president, correctly see them as opening the gates to looters, while capital exits through the back door.
The two-thirds majority that is required to amend the constitution is thus unlikely to be achieved - unless the DA can be convinced that a clarificatory amendment makes good sense. Possible, yes, but unlikely under the DA's present leadership.
It is clear to many people, including key leadership figures in the ANC, that the question of expropriation, and the cost of land, are not at the core of land reform. The more fundamental questions are: who will receive land? For what purposes? With what rights? With what forms of support?Expropriation has its place, in some cases without compensation. But increasing the budget for land reform to, say, 2% of the total budget would provide plenty of money not only for land acquisition but also for building a competent bureaucracy capable of implementing land reform - something we do not have.
And if large amounts of land can be purchased at a discount from market value, after developing clear criteria and procedures for assessing land values that are "just and equitable", so much the better.
By applying the requisite political will, land redistribution could then proceed at a reasonably rapid pace.
Funds will also be required for investment in land, infrastructure, skills development and market access. These will help create viable farming operations and enable the livelihoods of beneficiaries to improve in rural and urban areas.
New approaches to urban planning and housing are urgently required to address spatial inequality.
New laws, policies and institutional arrangements are also needed to give expression to section 25 (5) of the property clause on creating equitable access to land, and to secure the land rights of the poor. These should enable participatory processes for expressing people's need for land, as well as transparency in the planning and delivery of land programmes.
Together, these measures should enable citizens to hold the government accountable for the implementation of a pro-poor and transformative land reform.
But can Ramaphosa deliver on his vision in relation to land? Or will the EFF seize back the initiative?The EFF has outplayed the ANC, camping in its half of the field and scoring the first goal in parliament this year. The president has just played the ball back into the EFF half, and an equaliser is now on the cards. The ANC has a unique opportunity to recover the initiative and launch an effective land reform programme.
Immediate steps for the government could include test cases on expropriation and compensation, reworking the Expropriation Act, and launching investigations into corruption in land reform. It could seek to halt evictions from communal areas, informal settlements and commercial farms.
Parliament could begin to process the far-reaching recommendations of the high-level panel led by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, and the department of rural development and land reform could begin to develop a white paper on land.
Tenure reform has been neglected. New approaches are required to secure the land tenure rights of the residents of communal areas, informal settlements and backyard shacks, as well as farmworkers and dwellers. The roles and powers of traditional leaders need to be clarified as a matter of urgency.
Land administration is in a dire state and needs to be redesigned to support the land rights of the poor, whether or not these are held through individual title deeds.The tottering restitution programme also needs to be fixed, but priority should be given to redistribution, which is a more appropriate vehicle for transforming patterns of ownership - and frees people from having to prove dispossession in the past.
Public hearings on land have revealed that levels of frustration and rage are rising. This is ripe for exploitation by authoritarian forms of populism. Wise leadership is required, to drive policies that address the roots of inequality - in relation to land but also in the core functioning of the South African economy.
Professor Cousins holds a department of science & technology/National Research Foundation chair in the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape..

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