In truth, the direction of land policy misstates the existing problems, and offers no solutions for them. If anything, what is proposed will only compound them, writes Terence Corrigan
As the deadline for comment on the proposed amendment to the constitutional provisions on property rights approaches – just a few days remain – it was not unexpected to see the government’s political leadership doubling down on the matter.
This, President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament, would be going ahead.
This can’t surprise anyone who has followed the process, since there has never been a serious intention to engage with the advisability of the issue, just a push to get it done.
The president himself signalled this in 2018 when he committed to a constitutional amendment before the public hearings had been completed.
What may be surprising is the manner in which this has been framed.
Not for the first time, the president quixotically presented his government’s plans as a well-considered solution that will empower the country as a whole.
“Far from undermining property rights,” he said, “these changes will broaden the property rights of all South Africans”.
It is difficult in the extreme to reconcile this, not only with the government’s drive to accord itself greater latitude to seize property – expropriation without compensation (EWC) – but with its current policy framework.
The reference point here is Limpopo farmer David Rakgase.
He has spent nearly two decades attempting to buy the state land he had been working, eventually turning to the courts for relief.
Having won his case (the judgment was scathing of the state), the government was ordered to sell the farm to him at the price as it existed in the early 2000s – R621 000.
When the offer was finally made, the price demanded was some R5.5m.
This is not some sort of cruel game or monumental incompetence (though informed observers should never underestimate how these factors may influence government action).
It is government policy, which purposely denies the possibility of land ownership to beneficiaries of redistribution schemes – purchase only being possible for those producing on a substantial commercial scale, and only after having done so for 50 years.
Government’s own court papers in the Rakgase case spelt this out.
Redistribution rested on the “principle that black farming households and communities may obtain 30-year leases, renewable for a further 20 years, before the state will consider transferring ownership to them”.
Appropriately, the courts pointed out that what the government had granted Rakgase – and was determined not to allow him to escape – was “a much lesser right” than ownership.
Indeed, the intention of the ANC to ensure that courts are excluded from determining expropriation means that the protection afforded the property holders will be reduced further.
In addition, the President pledged that the government would be guaranteeing more than just the acquisition of land, but “the support that beneficiaries need – in the form of training, finance, extension services and implements – to be successful farmers”.
In view of the record of the government, this lacks credibility.
It has never provided anything like the support needed, and nothing suggests this will change.
The projected trajectory of spending certainly offers little to back this. The land reform bureaucracy is often dysfunctional and an effective and efficient extension service remains an ambition.
The president might, for example, look at the Spaarwater Incubation Farm near Nigel, or the state-owned cooperative farm near Esselen Park, both visited by the IRR recently.
Aspirant farmers spoke with frustration of a lack of funding (the failure of the government to provide it, and an inability to raise it without proper tenure), poor water provision, and training that failed to materialise.
One of the most serious problems faced by the farming community – established and emergent, of all colours and scales – is an inability to guarantee its security and that of its assets.
Leaving aside violent crime, the theft of crops, livestock and equipment can push farming enterprises towards bankruptcy.
Moving off-script, the president alluded to this. “Land grabs will not be allowed to happen in our country,” he said.
He has made this promise before.
Whatever his or the government’s intentions, this is a promise that has not been kept.
Land invasions represent a very real threat to farming, one of the greatest according to an official at Agri SA.
David Rakgase’s case illustrates this well.
The land he farms was invaded, and he and his family were forced to flee.
His attempts to have the invaders evicted was unsuccessful (the authorities arguing that, not being the owner, he lacked standing in the case).
Rakgase said of his situation: “The government won’t protect me. Their officials are the reason my land was invaded in the first place.”
In truth, the direction of land policy misstates the existing problems, and offers no solutions for them.
If anything, what is proposed will only compound them.
To present policy in the terms chosen by the president is either dishonest or delusional, and probably a bit of both.
– Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations