Risky land policy proposals

Flying a risky land reform kite

Daily Dispatch

By ATHOL TROLLIP – The Democratic Alliance’s Eastern Cape provincial leader

June 30, 2014 in Opinion

THE recent ANC policy proposals around land reform made by Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti pose a constitutional dilemma that would serve no good purpose other than to destroy the already precarious rural and agricultural economy of South Africa.

What makes the said policy proposal, entitled “Strengthening the relative rights of people working the land” dangerous, is that the intended outcomes will almost certainly be undone by the unintended consequences.

Provincial DA leader: Athol Trollip

The past 20 years in South Africa have shown that change is certain. They have also shown that if this “certain” change is not properly managed and appropriately legislated, it creates the kind of uncertainty that militates against economic growth and prosperity.

We are currently reaping this grim harvest in terms of economic recession and jobless growth.

The ANC has achieved regrettable notoriety for playing the blame game whenever it is unable to meet its own targets. In this regard, the government has blamed their inability to come close to reaching their own target of redistributing 30% of “white owned” commercial farms, on the current policy of “willing buyer, willing seller”.

This is obviously a simplistic and all too convenient scapegoat to have any laudable credibility.

This failure is premised on many more fundamental reasons that can best be clustered as follows:

Firstly, the beneficiary identification process is gravely flawed, the pre- and post-settlement support is woefully ineffective and the lack of state support through scientific extension services, access to affordable credit and reliable markets have led to the collapse of state-acquired going farming concerns that have to be “recapitalised” on an ongoing basis.

This failure is a reflection on the government and the relevant implementing and supporting departments with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform ostensibly in the driving seat.

The intentions of this proposal are no doubt laudable but the adage of the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” is surely applicable with regard to this proposal.

The relative success of South Africa’s transition to a constitutional democracy compared to other African states is predicated on the founding provisions of our constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Section 25(1) in the Bill of Rights makes fundamental provisions about the right to own property and states: “No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property”.

The ANC’s policy proposal can and must be described as a proposed arbitrary deprivation of property, especially as the proposed 50% expropriation is to be done without compensation to the current owner.

In this regard, it is almost impossible to trace and prove that current commercial farm owners own their land directly due to colonialism, wars of dispossession, land dispossession by the 1913 Native Land Act as many farms have changed hands many times in the past centuries and, certainly, since 1913.

The credibility of the state, the ANC and minister Nkwinti is all the more questionable due to their collective insistence of using the archaic land ownership demographic patterns predating 1994 and the lack of a credible and publicly available land audit of property ownership in South Africa.

It is also instructive to note that the multiple billions of rand (in excess of R50-billion) that have been spent on restitution and reform have not delivered the stated targets due to many restitution beneficiaries choosing financial settlement rather than land. This choice cannot now become the sole onus of agricultural landowners alone.

What makes this ANC policy proposal all the more disingenuous, is the fact that the ANC-led government has embarked upon the development of a national plan (NDP) to reach its economic growth and prosperity targets over the next 30 years and there is no mention of this proposal in Chapter 6 entitled “an integrated and inclusive rural economy”.

This is what makes this kite-flying policy proposal so dangerous and its danger is exacerbated by the fact that the EFF has stated publicly that it will vote in favour of any proposed legislation by the ANC that promotes expropriation without compensation or nationalisation of agricultural land.

This policy is also dangerous as it emulates the disastrous “indigenisation” policies of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu(PF) that brought Zimbabwe to its knees, economically and politically.

For fear of legitimising this proposal, I am hesitant to challenge any of its patently flawed provisions.

However, it is important for the sake of my argument against the proposal to posit why its intentions cannot work. Nkwinti says the policy seeks to restore the dignity of the farmworker and contribute to agricultural development (no one in their right mind could oppose such an objective) however, the policy will have the opposite effect as it will destroy investor confidence, bankability and creditworthiness of the agriculture economy and destroy the spirit of entrepreneurship that is critical to sustainable agriculture production and farming.

The notion that equity can be given to farmworkers on a formula determined by years of service is also catastrophic as it excludes the role of recently-employed black farm managers who are employed on the basis of their skills and expertise.

The proposal dealing with buying out of equity shares from workers who wish to leave the enterprise or who are dismissed for any reason by the proposed Land Rights Management Committee (LRMC) provide for this to happen “only on condition that the relevant local council provide alternate suitable accommodation”, is an indication of how farcical this proposal is as housing delivery backlogs are the greatest challenge for all local councils across the country.

This policy proposal is also ostensibly designed to deal with arbitrary evictions in the agricultural sector. This is a classic case of treating the symptom and not the cause as there is existing legislation such as, The Extension of Security of Tenure Act and the Labour Tenants Act, both provide specifically for the protection of workers against arbitrary eviction in the agricultural sector, not to mention a plethora of other labour legislation in this regard.

What is required in this regard is not more draconian legislation but that the ANC government and organised commercial and emerging agricultural unions and organisations develop a relationship that will proactively find solutions to the challenges in the rural and agricultural economy that will not result in a situation that compromises national stability, food security and already unacceptably high levels of unemployment and resultant poverty.

This will require visionary leadership and honest commitment from all concerned and this can only be built on mutual trust.

Nkwinti’s proposal and abrasive utterances in this regard do not help, nor does the fact that the newly-appointed Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Zokwana, allegedly only pays his cattle herder R800 a month. I would venture that what is needed is more carrot and less stick.