Land question needs to be resolved

GetBiz CEO Andile Ntingi. Photo: GetBiz

The land question has once again been thrust into the spotlight by the growing clamour for radical economic transformation, which is gaining traction in public discourse as black people fail to make a significant breakthrough in the mainstream economy.

The ruling ANC is split on the matter, while the main opposition party, the DA, says it wants a form of land restitution that will insulate food production from any potential disruption while bringing more black people into commercial farming and land ownership.

The EFF, South Africa’s third-largest political party, wants a far-reaching land restoration programme based on the expropriation of commercial farmland from white farmers without compensation, a proposal that has been publicly backed by President Jacob Zuma and his supporters in the ANC.

Zuma’s views on land restitution are not shared by his party’s Economic Transformation Committee, which is in favour of government’s new expropriation legislation, which has introduced the role of a valuer-general, who will determine the value (or compensation) of land earmarked for expropriation.

The new legislation was ushered in after the “willing buyer, willing seller” policy was abandoned for failing to quicken the pace of land redistribution. In its recent policy document titled Economic Transformation, the ANC says the state “should never pay a premium when purchasing land for the purpose of land reform”.

Hence the valuer-general will come in handy to prevent government acquiring land at ridiculously inflated prices. The ANC believes that the land redistribution programme will yield more success if claimants who want to be farmers (instead of being financially compensated) are equipped with technical skills and farming equipment, and then assisted with selling their produce to the markets.

This intervention could help stem the high failure rate of farms that are transferred to black people. But the new land reform policy has not stopped calls for land expropriation without compensation.

Supporters of expropriation without compensation will have to amass enough political power to amend section 25 of the Constitution, which protects private property from expropriation.

Basically, the section makes provision for land to only be expropriated after compensation is agreed by the affected parties. Such expropriation must get the nod from a court of law.

The “willing buyer, willing seller” policy effectively gave landowners absolute discretion on whether or not to participate in the land reform programme. This policy is blamed for slowing down land restitution and for allowing landowners to sell land earmarked for redistribution to the state at inflated prices.

Many of these landowners are descendants of early European settlers in SA, who forcefully dispossessed and unsettled black people from their lands during the colonial era and generations later under apartheid rule.

These landowners have historically been able to use the ownership of fertile agricultural land to build successful businesses. It has been argued that one of the reasons why blacks have struggled to make economic headway is because they don’t own fertile land.

According to figures provided by rural development and land reform minister Gugile Nkwinti during a State of the Nation debate in February 2013, a total of 5.56m hectares had – at the time – been redistributed since 1994 to land claimants through various land reform programmes.

This is still a long way from the government’s target of redistributing 24.5m hectares of agricultural land to black South Africans. So far, land returned to its original owners is equivalent to about 6.78% of commercial agricultural land.

A large number of the commercial farms that have been transferred to blacks have failed and are no longer productive, raising concerns about what would happen to food security if land redistribution was to be aggressively pursued and widened.

The task of producing 95% of SA’s agricultural output is done by an estimated 37 000 commercial farmers, who ensure our country’s food security. According to a land reform paper compiled by the DA in 2013, government has spent R16 billion on the restitution programme, of which R10 billion was used for land acquisition and R6 billion paid out as financial compensation to claimants.

The document stated that agricultural economist Nick Vink estimates that government has spent close to R69 billion on land reform. In its discussion paper, the DA argues that its policy would take into account urban land pressures caused by rapid migration of people from rural areas to cities, meaning that its strategy would seek to give blacks access to agricultural land and land for housing purposes instead of focusing purely on farmland.

The DA’s view on giving the landless access to agricultural and non-agricultural land is informed by a survey conducted by the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE), which found that only 9% of black people want to be farmers, while most want urban housing.

Whichever political party wins the next elections in 2019, it will have to implement a land reform policy that resolves the tricky “land question”.


  • Andile Ntingi is the chief executive and co-founder of GetBiz, an e-procurement and tender notification service.

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