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HomeAnalysisLand — Where To Now? The issues at hand*

Land — Where To Now? The issues at hand*

The question of land expropriation without compensation continues to evoke debate in South Africa. It was brought into sharp focus last week when a sitting of Parliament voted in favour of this motion. Mphuthumi Ntabeni continues to think through this national issue. He says that the focus of the debate has been tilted and we need to keep thinking. In the second part, which follows shortly, he looks at what value Catholic Social Teaching adds to the debate.

A false narrative has been present in local and international media since the debate and vote on the parliamentary motion for the expropriation of land without compensation. The discussions appear to concentrate only on rural agricultural land as if this was the only land in question. About 13% of the total South African land is considered arable. This portion of land is capable of producing 95% of our national food requirements. Black South African citizens constitute 76.4% of the country’s total population but only own 7% of the land. The economic imperative for greater land tenure for black South Africans is obvious.

Land Grabs

If we are to consider the present living situation on the Cape Flats, it would, in fact, seem that we need to give much more urgent consideration to the expropriation of land for the purpose of human settlement. Recently, Gugulethu has been set ablaze as the City of Cape Town, locked in ceaseless negotiations, is held to ransom by black private land owners asking exorbitant prices for land identified suitable for building social housing in order to accommodate backyard dwellers. A similar thing has been happening in Khayelitsha as the City struggles to negotiate the purchase of land to increase the space made available for graveyards.

In my opinion, our National Constitution makes room for the expropriation of land without compensation. However, things get murky when we consider the possible clash between this and the property clause upheld by the same constitution. Past reluctance by the state to expropriate land without compensation feeds my suspicion as to the compatibility between these clauses given the Constitution as it presently stands. Hence, the EFF supported by other progressive parties in the National Assembly proposed the amendments to section 25 of the constitution which deals with the property clauses.

In my analysis, the motion by the EFF proposes state custody of all land, so that the individual’s right to own land is removed. Thus, avoiding the contradiction when the need arises to legally expropriate land for the common good from unreasonable private owners. This is to avoid situations like those in Gugulethu where frustrated citizens have taken to the arbitrary and violent occupation of the land for what they see as the common good. Given this, I believe that the progressive discussions that we should be having, are, if any, alternatives to those of state land custody proposals. The status quo on the land issue is untenable and this must change. The Land Report seems to be something out of the apartheid era thrusting headlong over the precipice. Crucial now to the discussion: is to consider how we might tweak this proposal to optimally serve the common good.

Rapid Urbanization

Yet another pervading false narrative is the assumption that the rapid rate of urbanisation in our society means that black people no longer have a need for arable or rural land. One of the aims of the NDP (National Development Plan) is to arrest, if not reverse, rapid urbanization in SA by promoting rural agricultural development. With all his faults, one thing Zuma and his administration were right about was taking rural development very seriously.

This is something seen in places like Khayelitsha where the trend is to randomly build a shack to be eligible to be on the social housing list. When that house is awarded, it is then left to the care of their children. From here,  I’ve witnessed one of two scenarios. The children either live in the city home while getting an education or participating in skills development programs, or they rent the house to foreign nationals to earn a steady income for themselves. In the latter cases, they go back to the rural areas to plough their fields. There, government supplies them with tractors to cultivate the land, drought-resistant seeds, and rams and bulls for proper livestock breeding, etc. As yet there’s no telling whether the success of subsistence farming initiatives will eventually reverse urbanization in SA. However, it is clear that the people do not suffer fools gladly and are beginning to realize that there are no jobs in the cities for the unskilled. This is forcing a return to rural areas.

Consider Ghana, where there had been a slump in economic growth for two consecutive years, due to a fall in the price of oil.  However this year, because of agricultural development they have seen a remarkable 9.4% increase in their economic growth rate.  The government brought together peasant cocoa farmers and gave them tools to work the land. As a result, people have felt encouraged to leave the cities; having lost their jobs due to abandoned construction projects. Today, agriculture has overtaken oil mining as the highest contributor to their GDP.

The black South African middle classes offer another encouraging sign, particularly those originally from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. There, the trend is to build luxury homes in the rural areas where they stay instead of moving into the suburbs. This testifies to the fact that they see their long-term future being in their rural homes and not necessarily in the urban areas formally preferred. Presently, we are quantifying these trends for the National Department of Human Settlement, as part of my thesis, and hope to have full statistics towards year-end.

All the hysteria generated around land grabs deliberately fuels fears and ignores the success stories of land custody; concentrating instead on scaremongering tactics, citing cases of arbitrary and lawless land takeovers as seen in Zimbabwe, which no one here has proposed.

Personally, I am not interested in engaging these time wasting and dispiriting narratives. Engaging the perpetrators of such narratives is futile since nothing will make them change their minds. Nonetheless, I am impressed by the rumours of a land summit coming from the parties of those who supported the land expropriation motion in parliament. I think that the participation of academic institutions, civic organisations and faith groups in this forum might give us a good base to find values we agree on – even if in the end our submissions to the Constitutional Review Committee will be different – it is this discussion that interests me.

*This is the first article in a two-part series. Read the second part HERE

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.