We’re looking at land reform all wrong

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A week and a half after the Rand reached new highs against the backdrop of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment, his cabinet reshuffle, and South Africa’s “new dawn”, the currency has plummeted once again. This was the result of the fact that Parliament voted to establish a multi-party committee whose sole function will be to discuss amending section 25 of the Constitution in order to expropriate land without compensation.

Redistribution of landThe question of land ownership has been at the forefront of South African politics since 1994, and many are of the opinion that this latest parliamentary motion is an attempt by the ANC to reverse its failed land reform policies. Tabled by the EFF, the ANC toned the motion down and gained concessions from other parties, leading to the passing of the motion by 241 in favour and 83 against.

The usual arguments have sprung up around the issue: Those in favour talk about “redressing the wrongs of the past” and “regaining dignity”; those opposed point to stresses around food security and the economic impact. And, while all of these arguments have their own validity, this is such an emotive topic that there seems to be no middle ground.

In fact, there has never been anything resembling a real, sustainable solution – not from government, nor from the agricultural sector, and certainly not from the masses who equate land ownership with freedom. Not once have the various stakeholders met to put a plan of some kind together (not even after Zimbabwe showed what the eventual repercussions of leaving the status quo could be).

That our current “willing seller, willing buyer” approach to land reform has failed is obvious in Parliament’s latest motion. However, it seems that no alternatives to appropriation – with or without compensation – have been considered.

For example, a system where established farmers have to train X number of “trainee” farmers over a period of X number of years, subsidised by government. Following this, the newly-trained farmers would then have state-owned land allocated to them, or provided with the means to purchase a piece of land. This would immediately ensure food security as well as the redistribution of land. Had something of this nature been started 20 years ago, we would now have an entirely different agricultural sector.

Farming is a skilled job. There are many factors involved in the successful husbandry of animals or the sowing and reaping of produce. Add to that the supply chain and business elements involved in bringing the farmed goods to market, and it seems unrealistic to look at the land question without examining the skills side of the issue.

In addition, the past 20 years have seen a decline in the local agricultural sector. It now only contributes 2.5% of GDP and our reliance on food imports has grown as a result. A new approach to land reform could change that, but that would require proactive policies that focused on all of the elements required to create a transformed, sustainable agricultural sector.

The budget allocated to land restitution and land reform is around R6-billion or around 0,4% of the total national budget. In the current budget, the amount allocated for land restitution is R3.371-billion and for land reform, an amount of R2.723-billion. With those kinds of figures, a new generation of farmers could easily be upskilled and provided with land.

In addition, it turns out that many of South Africa’s farmers are highly indebted. According to media reports, the banks would stand to lose around R160-billion from land appropriation without compensation. While the loss of their land would be devastating, the disappearance of the loans – most in the form of mortgage bonds – would allow farmers to freely move across our borders to till the soil of neighbouring countries, leaving South Africa the poorer for their loss of skills.

Of course, most of our other policies have failed to transform particular sectors of the economy, so hoping for a reasonable approach to land reform seems to be a fool’s hope. But South Africans continue to surprise themselves, so there might be a chance that this will all ultimately result in a revitalisation of the agricultural sector. After all, there are two Blue Moons this year…

Image credit: Copyright: stegarau / 123RF Stock Photo


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