South Africa must handle land expropriations with care

South Africa must handle land expropriations with care

For a very long time now, the militant Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of South Africa has advocated for and called for what they called Radical Economic Transformation, a concept that has divided opinion among many South Africans due to the phrase’s ambiguity.
This phrase, at some stage sounded like it was only an empty phrase whose benefit was as regards its potential at swaying especially poor black people’s votes to whichever party that used it ‘radically’.

The ANC later adopted it when the factions within the party, which were led by those who were being touted to lead the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma were established along the lines of those who claimed to support that same Radical Economic Transformation and those who were tagged White Monopoly Capital (yet another ambiguous phrase).

Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First movement, which leaned a lot on the Radical Economic Transformation side, seemed to campaign a lot using that same phrase. His was certainly only meant to add to the noise in support of the Zuma camp. Now that Ramaphosa has since been elected, the mantra and the noise around it have to some extent dissipated.

It is pretty clear now that the EFF, which is one of the newest kids on the block, will be renowned for setting the national agenda for the republic. This Radical Economic Transformation seems to carry with it the promise of a state-led economic growth and development as against the private sector.
This is what the EFF has always stood for. It seemingly looks to be on a quest to adopt policies that can be said to be pro-poor. It also seems to convey the message of a need to transfer ownership of the economy and land to the indigenous black people.

Julius Malema just knows what black people want to hear. The Parliament of the Union of South Africa had in 1913 passed the Native Land Act.
This piece of legislation, whose impact was to segregate residential areas into land which was supposed to be occupied by whites and that occupied by black people, left the Africans with ownership of only seven percent of the total arable land, with whites, who constituted only less than 20 percent of the population, being left with the rest of the fertile land.

This injustice had to be reversed. Expropriation of land without compensation, together with the call on nationalisation of mines and other strategic institutions such as the Reserve Bank of South Africa were and still are at the top of the EFF’s priority list.
Recently, the South African parliament voted 241 to 83 in favour of amending the country’s constitution. This will give way to confiscation without compensation of land owned by white people for redistribution as restitution for the injustice meted out against black people in the past.

A number of opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance; COPE and the Freedom Front Plus had opposed this motion on the grounds that it may adversely impact on agricultural production and might scare off investors.
Mosiuoa Lekota of COPE, had asked President Ramaphosa a number of pertinent questions relating to this motion.

“Whose land are you going to take? And who will decide on who gets the land?” These are just some of the questions he asked. These are important questions considering that this will not be the first time an African country goes through this process in an attempt to right the wrongs of the past.
Zimbabwe had embarked on the same journey, having been colonised by the British and their land taken away from them and given to whites.
After a long guerilla warfare against the white minority rule in the then Rhodesia, which saw hundreds of deaths of the white settlers and a decline in agricultural production, talks to end the war were held at the Lancaster House in London between the white settlers and the ZANU and the ZAPU under the leadership of Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo.

The British government was mediating. Just as the black South Africans are proposing today, Mugabe and Nkomo’s stance and pre-condition talks could be held, was only on confiscation of land without compensation.  On the flip side, the difference between the South African case and the Zimbabwean case in the past has to do with the fact that with the latter, the British government and the white settlers made concessions and the British government agreed that they would facilitate land redistribution both technically and financially.

With that, Mugabe and Nkomo agreed to some demands from the settlers. In the South African case, there were neither promises nor concessions by whites, only land grabs by whites. With time, the British government reneged on their promise to support land redistribution efforts in Zimbabwe. The result was a knee jerk reaction by Mugabe with the infamous Fast Track Land Reform Programme through which land was forcibly confiscated from the white farmers with the intention of reallocating it to black people.

The west did not approve of this a bit. Sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe and as they say, the rest is history. The South African government has done a great job in terms of restoring confidence in the economy to the investors.
Ramaphosa has even met with Moody’s and explained how he intends to put South Africa on a sustainable economic growth path. This land confiscation has the potential to undo these positive strides, especially if indeed no compensation is paid out.

The president has moved to assure the world that the land redistribution will be executed prudently in a manner that will not adversely impact on agricultural production. Notwithstanding, one can posit that some of the challenges which were encountered in Zimbabwe will almost certainly be felt in South Africa, maybe only by a lesser scale.

These challenges include the likelihood that black people may take up the land, which to them would be just like a windfall even though most would be lacking in terms of skills and technical know-how to manage and successfully grow on this land.
The past ten or so years have shown that South Africa has a serious problem with rampant corruption exercised mainly by those at the helm. The authorities would need to put checks on every stage of this redistribution process to prevent politicians and wealthy people in that country from claiming such lands simply because they can.
There were allegations of this same practice regarding allocation of RDP houses. Wealthy individuals had these houses built for them, and then they would rent them out to the poor people willing to stay in such houses.
It was in 1913 and subsequent years when people were removed from their land, not the 90’s. The proximity in terms of time will render this exercise very difficult to execute. As Mosiuoa Lekota has enquired, one wonders how the true and legitimate claimants will be determined, and what happens to land that has already been developed.

It may not necessarily be a tough ask to determine which land was taken away, but to correctly be able to restore such land to rightful owners generations later, will be a serious challenge.

There is also an issue of those black farm workers who for generations have been working on a particular piece of land. Some of them do not have a home away from the farm. The white farmer would have allocated such workers dwellings which serve as their home and these would be the only homes their children get to know.

Will they be allowed to lodge a legitimate claim on these pieces of land? Whatever the government of South Africa will decide to do, this mammoth task needs very careful consideration lest the government victimises some members of the society when they appease the others.
The land reforms and redistributions in Zimbabwe were essential, but they were held in a dramatic and hasty way that even if sanctions were not imposed on Zimbabwe, the agricultural sector was almost certainly going to take a serious hit.

Using the Zimbabwe case as some form of reference, it means therefore that South Africa has a golden opportunity presented to them in a platter to avoid some of the mistakes that were committed by their neigbour.

One can only hope that the ANC will not feel pressured by the upcoming 2019 elections, and look to swiftly implement these reforms in a quest to score political points in the run up to the elections. This would have serious repercussions which would economically send that country 40 years back.

By Mosito Ntema

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