by Piet Coetzer

Land reform dominates annual 8 January ANC statement

An overview of the land reform goals laid out in the ANC's annual statement


Nothing new of substance came out of the African National Congress’s annual 8 January statement that was delivered on Saturday by President Jacob Zuma in Durban. He did indicate, however, that the “second (economic) phase of the national democratic revolution”, with land reform at its core, will dominate the political stage in 2013. Emotive and sensitive debates lie ahead. 

 Zuma started the statement by placing the question of land reform squarely back on the agenda for the year that marks the centenary of the infamous Natives Land Act of 1913. The act put only 13% of arable land in the hands of black people.

In 1994, after the first democratic elections, then minister of land affairs Derek Hanekom declared that he aims to transfer 30% of farmland to black ownership within five years.

This and subsequent deadlines have been missed. The latest deadline is 2014 for the redistribution of 24.5-million hectares of farmland. To date, only 27% of that target has been met and it is highly unlikely, for numerous practical, legal and economic reasons, that the 2014 deadline will be met, either. 

Reading the statement of the National Executive Committee (NEC), Zuma said, “We (the ANC) have directed our government to urgently speed up the process through a variety of measures.” Some of these measures include the replacement of the principle of 'willing buyer, willing seller', which has been widely blamed for the failure to meet redistribution targets, together with one of 'just and equitable' acquisition.

This sounds promising, but complicated legal implications, among others stemming from the Constitution, will have to be overcome in the process. To further complicate the issue, it was indicated that the cutoff date for the 1913 Act will be extended to “accommodate historic landmarks, heritage sites and descendants of the Khoi and San who lost their land long before 1913.”

This extension of the scope of land reform could, for one, bring into play the traditional land of black communities. Long, sensitive debates on the interpretation of South African history could ensue.

If land reform is aimed at effecting private ownership of land by the majority of the population as a driver of economic development, the traditional land ownership patterns in the erstwhile homelands will need to receive attention as well. At the same time, the debate about whether land owned by the state should be included when distribution calculations are made, is likely to continue.

It is known that Zuma wants the National Development Plan (NDP), put together under the chairmanship of planning minister Trevor Manuel, to be the guiding light for development. The NDP foresees that every municipal district with commercial farmland within its borders should establish committees compromising farmers and other key stakeholders to identify 20% of that land for transfer to black ownership under very specific guidelines aimed at not distorting the market.

This is a task that can hardly be completed in a few months.

As far as the position of traditional authorities and their hold on land goes, Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza of the University of Cape Town, in a paper on the issue wrote that “although rural inhabitants are the effective owners of land in the sense that they have lived in these areas for long periods of time, landholding based on the permit-to-occupy system does not provide them with a legally secure title comparable to a freehold title. It is, above all, this insecurity of tenure that has created conditions for the exclusion of rural inhabitants from the administration and management of what is essentially their land.”

The ANC is proposing legislation to define governance in areas created by the apartheid era Bantu Authorities Act, which linked traditional leaders to the government of the day and granted them extensive powers over diverse communities living in those areas. 

Ten years after the 1994 elections, the Communal Land Rights Act (2004) was introduced to “provide for legal security of tenure by transferring communal land” to communities. The law has been subsequently declared “unconstitutional in its entirety” by the Constitutional Court, which found it limited security of tenure and gender equity.

Finding an acceptable and workable alternative to the 2004 Act is not going to be easy and is unlikely to be completed in a short time. In the meantime, according to Statistics South Africa the areas where poverty is the highest are in the former homelands, with up to 72% of residents living on R400 per month.

In his Durban address, Zuma said that a mixed economy where public and private, cooperative and other forms of social ownership complement each other is the best solution to rectify problems inherited from the past.

Other mechanisms envisaged, and which are likely to be seen this year, are the establishment of a land management commission and a land rights commission as well as the appointment of a valuer-general.

It is going to be a very busy year on the land reform front, with plenty of room for lively debate and political arm-wrestling.

Throughout, the government will be mindful that the process is being managed against the background of the existing agricultural economy which, be it dominated by white and corporate farmers, is successful in providing most of the country’s food needs. Recent experience elsewhere on the continent and further afield has shown that food shortages and steeply rising food prices are the stuff of which revolutions are made.

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