The Great “Absents” in the Land Debate

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The Great “Absents” in the Land Debate
The Great “Absents” in the Land Debate

A healthy, robust debate around the issue of land is clearly needed in South Africa today. Unfortunately, the nation finds itself right now in the midst of a persistent and belligerent invective against landownership. This threatens the future of the nation.

The land reform offensive is led by Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and organizations like “Black First Land First” (BLF). These prominent and shrill drivers call for an all-encompassing radical overhaul of the very structures of landownership, particularly in the agricultural sphere. More radical elements within the African National Congress (ANC) have occasionally sounded off on the debate as well, with some of the most absurd and clearly unhelpful policies being proposed as “solutions” to the “land question.” One need only re-call the proposals a few years ago to distribute private farmland on a 50/50 basis between owners and employees…

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Meanwhile, many sound proposals and workable solutions have been tabled from various corners, but these rarely get the publicity they deserve. The debate is driven only within the narrow confines of radical socialist solutions with little or no attention paid to credible alternatives.

Expropriation Without Compensation

The debate has simmered for years, but hotted up recently with the ANC’s newly elected National Executive Committee’s (NEC) endorsing the populist land mantra “Expropriation without Compensation.” Newly appointed President Cyril Ramaphosa (himself an accomplished farmer and serious landowner) in his “State of the Nation Address,” also weighed in on this issue giving it prominence.

All this is happening as South Africans eagerly anticipate some serious economic attempts at redressing the former Zuma government’s chronic legacy of pillage and graft! Ironically, Ramaphosa lauded agriculture at the same time for its contribution to South Africa’s increased economic welfare in the latter part of 2017 and shortlisted it as one of the sectors earmarked to drive the economy and play a significant role in poverty alleviation.

Notwithstanding this, many in positions of influence are taking the opportunity to slate “landownership” as being the core of all evils. It is as if a refrain of “seize the land and all other things will be added unto you” would be a cure-all for the deep economic and social afflictions assailing the nation.

Malema’s passionate “crusade” against government “corruption” rings hollow in light of his similar passion to “transfer all landownership to the State.” One can barely imagine the scale of corruption and abuse should his utterances to this effect, at the 2017 Property Owners Conference in Cape Town, be realized in the near future…

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Essentially the debate has been systematically pushed in the direction of an assault on landownership per se with the customary emotional appeal to past injustices. This effort envisions overturning South Africa’s constitutionally protected “property rights” clause enshrined in Section 25 of the Constitution. If this succeeds and all landownership should fall under the State’s custody, as Malema and his ilk propose, it will destroy all the economic hopes engendered by Ramaphosa after years of the Zuma regime’s pilfering.

To enact a just and equitable solution to the land question, the Constitution need not be changed. The country’s problems around the land issue are not due to any Constitutional obstacles. The Constitution actually facilitates land reform. Section 25 (5) is unambiguous: The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures within its available resources to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.

As the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) recently observed:

“[F]ew details exist as to how this [expropriation without compensation] would be achieved, beyond comments made at the [ANC elective] conference that it would entail amending Section 25 of the Constitution. Because the ‘property clause’ is so often discussed in relation to land reform and the agricultural sector, it is often mistakenly assumed that a move on property rights will be limited to farming and agricultural landholdings.

“It is important to understand the reality of Section 25. It refers not to land alone, but to all property. It acknowledges that redistributive measures will feature strongly in state policy and allows for this, for both a ‘public purpose’ and ‘in the public interest.’”

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The public interest refers essentially to broadly agreed-on policy goals, including — but not limited to — land reform and providing access to the country’s natural resources. It does prohibit arbitrary dispossession and recognizes the right of owners to be compensated for their loss. In addressing expropriation, Section 25 states unambiguously that expropriation in the public interest may be carried out in respect of property other than land.

In fact, all the invective against property has now (in the heady and hopeful days of transition to a new president found expression in a resolution proposed by the EFF and passed in Parliament on February 27 by the ANC and allies with an overwhelming majority. Could this have been an attempt to embarrass Ramaphosa, seize the high ground and drive his agenda? The EFF certainly forced the ANC’s hand and succeeded in its role of “pushing” the latter to the Left!

The same resolution, proposed by the same EFF exactly a year ago, was defeated by the very same ANC with some credible justifying argumentation! The resolution, which sent shock waves through the country, sets in motion a process to amend the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. The matter will be referred to a parliamentary body (The Constitutional Review Committee) which must deliver its report-back by August 30. One can immediately perceive the pitfalls and the minefields should such an amendment be passed; the resulting crisis of confidence in security of land tenure, the instability in the countryside, lack of investment in infrastructure, unemployment, despondency and other issues. Everything an emerging economy with profound structural problems does not need!

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Sikonathi Mantshantsha writing for Business LIVE Premium (Mar. 8, 2018), did not mince his words in characterizing this political charade: “The EFF is not interested in restoring land to the indigenous people of SA. Its only goal is total power. For that power it is prepared not only to destroy communities and cities, but anything that stands in its way. In less-than-subtle-hints, Malema has long told us what he thinks of sections of society that, in his mind, can be an obstacle to his total consolidation of power. Rwanda has been through this.”

Calm and Serene Debate, A Necessity

Only a fool would deny that a legacy of severe injustice needs to be addressed, but this debate must take place within an atmosphere of serenity, tranquility and Christian ethos. It must have the goal of honestly redressing genuine grievances, dispossessions and injustices — but above all to protect the very principle of private property and food security. A far reaching and all-encompassing “Land Summit” incorporating all role-players would be an excellent starting-point! Such an initiative is already underway and one can only pray that it tackles the complex issues with the necessary tact and dignified debate. However, the clock cannot simply be turned back! The nation cannot return to an agrarian economy… One cannot overemphasize the importance of food security. Socialist and confiscatory “solutions” to the “land question” will be playing with fire and opening the road to political, social and economic chaos.

It can be argued too that the inflammatory and rabble-rousing rhetoric around “land” has certainly played and continues playing a fundamental role in the tragic and unacceptably high level of farm attacks and murders. Besides the fact that Ramaphosa has strongly ruled out “occupations” (a constant threat from militants), the fallout for the vital agricultural sector has already been significant for some as it floats in a sea of economic uncertainty. The consequences of this malaise in agriculture will only worsen to the degree that the Malema party have their way. It will continue to be devastating as the rural economy hemorrhages even more jobs and employment opportunities. A glimpse of this scenario is already being seen in various places where revolutionary and populist parties are stoking the natural discontent of the “have nots” with inflammatory rhetoric and promises of “land…”

State Intrusion

Organized agriculture would do well to note the clearly Marxist line permeating the recently published “Mining Charter” and have no optimistic illusions as to the philosophy driving “transformation of the land.” The IRR observes:

“Indeed, government policy in general has been chasing a larger and more assertive role for the state in pushing its transformation agenda – in fields ranging from intellectual property to mining. The ANC’s resolution fits squarely within this overall trajectory.

There is nothing to suggest that any move to open the way for expropriation without compensation will be limited to land, and still less to agricultural landholdings. (own emphasis) Rather, we believe that it will be designed to provide the state with vastly increased latitude to seize property in a wide variety of contexts.

“This might, for example, be achieved by removing the constitutional requirement that expropriation is to be ‘subject to compensation’ (Section 25(2)(b)), as well as the subsequent considerations detailing the factors to be taken into account when determining compensation. With the constitutional requirement for compensation abolished (and the possibility of a constitutional challenge removed or vastly diminished), enabling legislation for expropriation without compensation could be enacted.

“Once actual acts of compensation-free expropriation have been undertaken – probably targeting landholdings – pressure would rapidly build from interest groups within the state and the ruling party to apply this model to other sectors of the economy. This might take the form of expropriation of shares in companies to satisfy empowerment goals, or in the interests of national security (the Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill, and the limitations it proposes on foreign ownership in the private security industry is instructive here). It is not inconceivable that culturally significant artworks or artifacts in private ownership might also be targeted.

“Interestingly, such action would not necessarily imply the redistribution of property between South African citizens, but from South Africa’s property owners to the state. This is clearly evident in current land redistribution policy, which emphasizes tenancy rather than title for its beneficiaries. [own emphasis] This would raise the question of how efficiently, transparently and honestly the state would be able to manage its growing portfolio of property holdings. The opportunities for corruption and ‘capture’ would be real and extensive.

“The likely impact of this proposal would be deeply damaging and would be felt far beyond the agricultural sector. It would stand to degrade the entire system of property protection in South Africa.”

The Great “Absents” in the Land Debate
“It is often mistakenly assumed that a move on property rights will be limited to farming and agricultural landholdings…The reality of Section 25…refers not to land alone, but to all property.”

Estina dairy farm at Vrede in the Free State is a classic example of the potential pitfalls of misplaced and misguided “transformation.” The loathed “Gupta family” — at the center of South Africa’s “State Capture” saga — ensured that this project feathered theirs and their cronies’ nests while leaving countless poor Black families, supposed “beneficiaries,” down and out!

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Mmusi Maimane — Head of the opposition Democratic Alliance — weighed in on the land issue, opining:

“This decision has nothing to do with achieving justice for poor, black South Africans and everything to do with ANC internal politics and EFF populism, all at the expense of the poor…

“Let’s be clear. Land reform in South Africa is non-negotiable. Land dispossession was the original apartheid sin, destroying black people’s ability to own productive assets and build intergenerational wealth.

“Beyond that, it produced the migrant labor system, which tore black families apart, depriving children of their fathers and wives of their husbands. Those wounds are woven into our social fabric and will endure for generations to come…

“The ANC’s about-turn on expropriation without compensation is not about creating a property-owning and prosperous generation of formerly dispossessed black South Africans. It is about entrenching power in the ANC.”

Maimane also states:

“Successful land reform, as directed by our Constitution, would produce an altogether better country: more productive, more united, more at peace with itself and the world.

“But in the past 24 years of ANC rule, only 8-10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed or restored to black people. In urban areas, black people live on the margins, mostly on state-owned land.

“The ANC’s about-turn in policy direction is a direct response to this abject failure. It diverts blame onto the Constitution. The ANC knows very well that the Constitution is an enabler rather than an impediment to land reform…

“And it diverts attention away from the real reasons for the slow pace of meaningful reform: corruption, inefficiency, bad policy, lack of political will and chronic underfunding. Kgalema Motlanthe’s High Level Panel report confirmed this: ‘Experts advise that the need to pay compensation has not been the most serious constraint on land reform in South Africa to date – other constraints, including increasing evidence of corruption by officials, the diversion of the land reform budget to elites, lack of political will, and lack of training and capacity have proved more serious stumbling blocks to land reform.’…

“The small budget allocated to land reform over the years, and the slow pace of progress proves the ANC’s disinterest in really building a thriving, diverse agricultural sector.

“No, this is about putting the interests of the ANC above the interests of the country.”

Class Struggle

The solution to the land question for those with Marxist leanings, is a facet of class struggle and an indispensable component of the “National Democratic Revolution” and finds significant grounding in the “Freedom Charter.” However, there have been many excellent, enterprising contributions to the land debate — diverse, imaginative and creative schemes and proposals — all worthy alternatives to the worn-out sloganeering and regurgitated one-liners of those hell-bent on “radical economic transformation.” Many of these suggestions, have not only enjoyed considerable support from key stakeholders, but are eminently sensible and “workable” solutions.

Unfortunately, as is the nature of most things “positive,” they rarely get the publicity they deserve and are even ignored while the demagogic Marxist solutions are widely trumpeted. In this way, tendentially and psychologically, the principles of private property (enshrined in natural law and rooted in two of the Ten Commandments) are subtly and cunningly undermined. Any tragic/criminal misdemeanor by a farmer, for example, is eagerly seized upon to stereotype, label and further alienate people from the “farming class”, thus sowing the seeds for “just intervention/expropriation,” and massive agrarian disruption further down the line… Meanwhile a farmer’s generous humanitarian dispositions towards his employees, manifested in a dozen ways, never quite make it to the public discourse!

“Land Reform” — Used and Abused to Further “Revolution”

It is important to note in the wider, universal context that “Land Reform,” “Agrarian Reform,” “Rural Transformation” and similar terminological descriptions have been major issues in many countries and regions. They are part and parcel of socialist/communist “transformation” programs.

Unfortunately, the debate in South Africa is bedevilled and complicated by the racial issue which in itself demands a more delicate and sensitive approach. One need not conjecture much on the consequences of stoking the expectations of the needy and impoverished — which expectations will only prove to be illusory and ultimately dashed…

Brazil, for example, has for over fifty years faced an extraordinary assault on landownership. These efforts are encouraged, aided and abetted by the media, leftist intelligentsia, ecclesiastical elements, “landless movements” and socialists of every hue. The agitation has gone so far as to emulate “Zimbabwe style” land invasions — always justified with an appeal to an exaggerated, false and incendiary narrative — positing the state of affairs as so serious that only radical action can stop the inevitable and impending social explosion. Inspired by socialist ideology, successive governments have fuelled the agitation through illicit seizures and occupations of private farming enterprises as well as far-reaching “land-grabbing” legislation, contributing to the development of nascent rural “shanty towns.”

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Some impulsive attempts to “redress” imbalances have already seen the “transfer of acquired land” implemented in a haphazard, unsystematic and almost reckless manner with little follow-up support and assistance… This has not only rendered formerly flourishing farms useless, but exacerbated poverty with the natural by-product being a greater dependency on the State for survival!

Suffice it to say, any reforms playing into the “radical economic transformation” mind-set, and failing to defend the principle of private ownership, will result in major economic regression: increased rural degradation, poverty, misery and chaos. High statistics are bandied about as to how many of these “transferred” farms have failed in their primary purpose (not solely the fault of the “new tenants”), resulting in mounting problems, huge frustration and contributing to emerging rural “squatter camps!”

Socialist Ideology

Swirling in murky water and lacking necessary definitions and precision, the land question and its attendant complexities are generally viewed through a Marxist prism and therefore, the solutions proposed naturally buy into this philosophy. There is no doubt that genuine inherited grievances exist, demanding a serious debate around the land question. Where legitimate, just restitution should follow. Bedevilling this debate, unfortunately, is the fact that alternative agendas are often at play, taking advantage of highly sensitive and emotional issues to further ideological agendas.

It is no secret that historically the revolutionary notion of “land reform” has always constituted a fundamental stepping stone on the road to the imposition of socialist egalitarianism. See for example the following declaration from the Basic Document of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (Movimento Sem Terra – MST): “Occupation and other massive forms of struggle for land will gradually educate the masses to seize power and implant a new economic system: socialism.”

This organization is a Brazilian social revolutionary movement, one of the largest in Latin America. Its goal is access to the land for poor workers through land reform and activism around social issues. It mirrors the consistent teaching and exhortations of key Socialist ideologues and Marxist movements of past epochs. Witness for example what Liou Chao Tchi, a former secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party had to say on the critical land question, “Land Reform is a systematic and fierce struggle against feudalism… Its goal is not to give land to poor peasants or relieve their misery: that is an ideal of philanthropists, not Marxists” (cf. Informe, June 14, 1950).

Revolution and Counter-Revolution

The continued promotion of programs and policies rooted in failed socialist experiments indicates that the ideological struggle remains very much alive and constitutes the driving force in the land reform debate in South Africa. To insist on the same failed policies that have created so much economic and social havoc is unconscionable. It begs the question whether those wedded to an ideological agenda have the slightest concern for the general welfare of the nation at heart, or the just redress of those previously disadvantaged. Why the insistent ideological attachment to the worn out Marxist philosophies entrenched for example in the miserabilist conditions of Cuba or Maduro’s Venezuela?

The Great “Absents” in the Land Debate
Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Healthy Reform

The visionary work, Land Reform: A Question of Conscience—50 Years After (initially published in Brazil in 1960 by eminent Catholic thinker and man of action, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira) lays down the conditions for a legitimate land reform. The authors write: “… One can speak of a healthy land reform, which constitutes authentic progress in harmony with our Christian tradition. But one can also speak of a revolutionary, leftist and unwholesome land reform, set up in conflict with this tradition. This type of land reform amounts to a severe blow to or even the elimination of private property. [own emphasis] For this reason, it should be seen as hostile also to the family. Indeed… property and family are correlated institutions founded on the same principles.” It should be abundantly clear from all the aforementioned that any criticism of “land reform” in no way opposes measures that promote genuine progress in the agricultural sector, be it in social organization, access to land or production, especially where these are geared toward a climate of harmonious relationships.

State as Landholder

One big question hanging over the land debate is seemingly passed over with indifference, if not ignored: What about the State’s landholdings?

The use of State lands is a perfect arena to extend landownership and open up new frontiers without upsetting the fragility of the rural sphere, especially food and employment security. The State is a major “land baron” (to use a classic inflammatory epithet of international socialists) in this country. Where is the outcry at this massive landholder or the demands for redistribution of its share? Let the State lead by example and free up its landholdings! The obsession with targeting private ownership proves that those at the forefront of economically disastrous proposals do not subscribe to these on just and humanitarian grounds. Their obsessive intentions must be thoroughly opposed with all legal and peaceful means!

The persistent demonization of the farming sector is a transparent ploy which needs to be exposed and countered. There has already been a significant organic transfer of land through the market to Black aspirant farmers, who now constitute a considerable number. Their acumen and expertise has born much fruit, aided and assisted by various “Agri” entities. Indeed, the new President, Cyril Ramaphosa is an established farmer with some renown. For the Left to incessantly characterize the farming sector/national landholdings as “white” smacks of “agenda” with its populist appeal to the “race card,” and is increasingly dishonest. The government’s recent land audit is a case in point — where, depending on the data, definitions and focus, all types of different information can be extrapolated. This is often misrepresented and used to fuel the populist narrative.

Sustainable and Workable Solutions Passed Over

The next major question is: What about workable alternatives? Indeed, why are in-depth, candid and feasible plans for the transformation of agriculture not accorded the attention they deserve? Many plans have been proposed by agricultural and civic institutions, think-tanks, university departments and farming media. Is it because they are rooted in a philosophy of sustainability, mentorship and harmonious relationships, and not class struggle, hatred and conflict? These studies do not hide the genuine need to address restitution as well as the racial imbalance in landownership, but not at the expense of the principle of private property and always insisting on the fundamental importance of security of tenure!

The possibilities of massively developing the nation’s agricultural potential, and therefore economic well-being and employment, while maintaining peace in the land, are enormous. Indeed, this was ably set out in the National Development Plan… Let the nation have recourse to the vast gamut of ideas, proposals and plans which are workable, both practically and sustainably and be very wary of gambling with racial harmony and economic stability.

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The government, farmers and all concerned stakeholders should take a close look at Brazilian agriculture, which has taken such giant leaps forward despite concerted, and misguided attempts to seize private landholdings. The resilience and determination of the Brazilian farmer has made the country into one of the biggest food producers in the world. In fifty years, it has migrated from food importer to massive home producer and export giant, producing (to name but one item) a ton of grain per capita (220 million tons annually!) The consequences of such progress for any nation are staggering!

Such nations should be the inspiration for South Africa, not the fanciful ideologies extolling expropriation found in Cuba, Venezuela or other suffering countries trapped in misery and poverty by failed socialist experiments! South Africa, miraculously draws on enormous reservoirs of goodwill and generosity, transcending race and religion. The nation should tap into these lofty sentiments in tackling the pressing needs of the day.

May Almighty God, who sees all things, look down in mercy upon the nation and its people and give the means, grace and willingness to solve these problems in a climate of prayer, mutual respect and the desire to do only His Holy Will.

This contribution is made possible by Peace in the Land – a special campaign of Family Action South Africa. For more information, please e-mail: [email protected].


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