04/06/2018 04:50 SAST

Land Reform: There Is NO Reason To Change Constitution, SA's Largest Farmers' Union To Tell MPs

AgriSA represents 28,000 commercial farmers. It believes the reason land reform has failed is not because of inadequate legislation.

Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
From left, Joyce Ncanywa and Mildred Jilane tend to their small garden on Yarrow farm in the Makana Municipality on September 19, 2013 in Grahamstown, South Africa. Yarrow farmland was acquired by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform through their Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy, which purchases useful farmland and selects beneficiaries. Yarrow's initial beneficiary was unsuccessful with the land and ownership rights are unclear, though a small group of people now live on the land and tend to the farm's small garden, chickens, cows and pigs.

The Constitution should only be changed if it is deemed impossible to implement proper land reform under the current legal framework.

There is, however, no compelling reason why the Constitution must be amended to enable land reform, the country's largest commercial farmers' union will tell the parliamentary committee reviewing South Africa's highest law.

According to AgriSA, which represents 28,000 farmers and a number of commodity organisations, the solutions for sustainable and equitable land reform are already contained in a number of policy documents and enabled by existing legislation.

AgriSA will tell Parliament's constitutional review committee that section 25 of the Constitution, the so-called property clause, is not the reason for slow land reform — the cause is rather poor implementation of policy, according to the organisation's submission to Parliament.

READ: 'It's Time For The ANC To Get Land Reform Right'

"Section 25 of the Constitution should only be amended if it is absolutely clear that land reform, when properly executed, cannot be carried out without such an amendment. A general constitutional power to expropriate land without compensation would render South Africa out of step with the vast majority of democratic countries.

"AgriSA opposes amendments to section 25, [but] we pledge our support to workable solutions within the existing constitutional framework," AgriSA says in its submission.

But the organisation, which according to its transformation report spent more than R330-million last year to aid 108,000 emerging farmers, agrees that land restitution is crucial. "We acknowledge that the dispossession of land caused deep wounds which have not healed, and that it led to great and enduring physical hardship. We also recognise that we, as a society, are faced with the triple challenges of inequality, poverty and unemployment, and that these challenges are particularly prevalent in rural areas," it says.

."We acknowledge that the dispossession of land caused deep wounds which have not healed, and that it led to great and enduring physical hardship."

Land reform has also failed, AgriSA believes, not because of a constrictive statutory environment, but because of "a failure of implementation". It cites inadequate budgeting, policy uncertainty, lack of support for new farmers, poor communication with stakeholders and corruption.

READ: We've Made Some Mistakes On Land Over The Past 20 Years - ANC's Godongwana

While the union supports the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Key Legislation, AgriSA believes any land-reform strategy must be based on accurate data on land-ownership patterns and statistics. It will tell MPs that there have been two serious attempts at determining what the real figures are, but that the difference between its own study and that of the department of rural development and land reform is enormous.

The study commissioned by AgriSA and the agriculture magazine Landbouweekblad was externally audited, but it is unclear how to test the department's findings. There is, for example, no difference between state land and state-administered land, or definitions of farms or smallholdings, AgriSA's submission contends.

According to the AgriSA/Landbouweekblad study, which used land-ownership data from the past 23 years to compile its findings, emerging and black farmers bought twice as much agricultural land on the open market in the period under review as the state did.

Public hearings on the mooted policy of expropriation of land without compensation will start at the end of the month.