Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why South Africa's Land Reform is Stuck

Why SA’s land reform is stuck

October 30, 2013 Opinion & Analysis

THIS year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the South African Land Act, which restricted black people from buying or occupying land except as employees of white people. The Act gave white people ownership of 87 percent of land, leaving the black majority to settle on the remaining 13 percent.

Although the law was replaced by a policy of land restitution when the ANC government came to power more than 19 years ago, South Africa is still struggling to reverse the impact of the Act. There have been problems and controversies with both policy and implementation of the land reform agenda, which uses redistribution, restitution and tenure reform to make the much-needed changes. It is therefore, important to look at some of the problems that have slowed land reform much to the disgruntlement of the local people.

Willing-buyer, willing-seller

The government’s restitution policy has taken a “willing buyer, willing seller” approach, as opposed to the expropriation route adopted by neighbouring Zimbabwe, after being hoodwinked to follow the willing buyer willing seller route. The South African government has been paying market value for the disputed land before it is handed over to the original owners, who were dispossessed during apartheid. But the government admits the process has siphoned off its resources and delayed the reform process considerably. It had been paying twice as much for land restitution as it was for distribution.

Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti told parliament recently that from 1994 to January 31 2013 the government spent over US$1,2 billion buying 4.1 million hectares of land for redistribution, while spending over US$1,6 billion on 1.4 million hectares for restitution.

“The small, white landed class has benefited R10.8 billion (over US$1 billion) from land acquired, while the 71 292 working class claimants benefited R6 billion (about $600 million),” said the minister.

Nkwinti also indicated that “claimants have chosen financial compensation over land restoration. This is a reflection of poverty, unemployment and income want”. Critics on the left argue it also reflects the lack of a coherent strategy to enhance food security, aid poor urban populations living on marginal land, aid the predominantly black rural population, and support emerging black small and commercial farmers. Government detractors on the right have called land reform a ticking time bomb that could turn South Africa into Zimbabwe. In response to criticism, the government has introduced several new initiatives in recent months, such as the Property Valuations Bill, the Expropriation Bill and the Restitution Amendment Bill. But the new legislation has only stirred up more debate.

Just and equitable compensation

To shorten the time taken to finalise claims and to reduce the amount of money spent, the government said earlier this year it is dropping the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle, pursuing instead a “just and equitable” principle for compensation, which is set out in the constitution. The constitution allows for expropriating property “even in cases where the owners of that property are unwilling to part with the property . . . if the expropriation is aimed at redistributing land to address the effects of widespread colonial and apartheid-era land dispossession,” writes legal expert Pierre de Vos, who teaches law at the University of Cape Town.

But the constitution says a “just and equitable” compensation must be paid for the property expropriated; it says nothing about paying market value. The proposed Valuations Bill will create an Office of the Valuer-General to develop criteria for determining what just value and compensation are.

The government has also proposed amendments to the 1994 Restitution of Land Rights Act, which would re-open the processing of restitution claims for people who missed the December 31, 1998 deadline.

But Ruth Hall, a senior researcher with the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), writes that the bill might delay the process of restitution by another two decades. It also requires claimants to prove that they will use the land productively.

“It is astonishing that such conditionality is being proposed; existing (mostly white) landowners do not have to prove that they can use their land productively in order to keep hold of it,” Hall wrote.

“Land restitution is a very complex issue, and it straddles over various departments. We are doing as much as we can, and now we are all working together to try and speed up the process,” said Palesa Mokomele, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Lack of good data

But there is not enough “reliable and detailed empirical data on small-scale farming in South Africa, and in particular on farming by land-reform beneficiaries,” said Ben Cousins, senior professor at PLAAS.

According to the government, between 1994 and the end of March 2013, 4 860 farms have been transferred to black people and communities through the redistribution programme, totalling over 4 million hectares.

Almost a quarter of a million people have benefited through land reform, including over 50 000 women, 32 000 youth and 674 people with disabilities. Yet is unclear whether the transfer recipients have retained the farms.

There is no national registry of farmers in the country, but pilot studies have shown that many new black farmers may have given up on their farms.

There is currently no tangible way to determine whether the transfer of land to black hands has been successful or transformed the lives of the needy.

Additionally, much of the policy literature in South Africa tends to overlook class dynamics, using terms such as “smallholder” and “small-scale” farmer, which ignore differences within these broad categories, Cousins said in a paper.

– Irin news.

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