THE BLOG
21/12/2017 15:28 SAST | Updated 22/12/2017 14:29 SAST

Motlanthe's Land-Reform Panel Idea A Step In Right Direction

Land reform must result in meaningful empowerment, including the ability to make decisions regarding land use, governance and related issues.

Edgard Garrido/ Reuters

Over the past 14 months, a high-level panel chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe has consulted a number of experts, stakeholders and local communities to pinpoint the exact reasons why the land reform programme has not yielded the expected results for many.

While the report rightly identifies poor implementation as the programme's Achilles' heel, it also identifies where improvements can be made in the legislative framework –– a welcome breath of fresh air, in my opinion.

The reasons unearthed by the panel largely mirror those identified by stakeholders who participated in Operation Phakisa during 2016, which shows that the causes are well known.

Among the many reasons identified, it is telling that the commission does not identify the need to compensate current landowners as the biggest stumbling block to accelerating reform.

The department of rural development and land reform currently diverts large portions of its land-reform budget away from land acquisition, and spends it on ancillary projects. While market integration and farmer development are very important objectives, this is the responsibility of the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and inadequate funding should not be used as an excuse to neglect the actual transfer of land ownership in South Africa.

The panel furthermore found that land acquisition and transfer has steadily dipped since 2009, when the budget was first split up to accommodate these ancillary projects.

Theo Boshoff

Many challenges are identified, including;

  • No common understanding as to whom land reform is intended to benefit, and no common goal towards which the various programmes are working,
  • Ownership remains vested with on state; and
  • Poor understanding of communal land governance.

To address this challenge, the high-level panel recommends that a single piece of legislation is enacted to create the framework within which all land-reform policies and legislation must be executed. This single piece of legislation would guide the implementation of all land-reform legislation by introducing principles that must be applied across the board.

One would imagine that the panel envisions a legislative regime very similar to that of South Africa's National Environment Management Act (NEMA), wherein it lays down a basic set of principles for environmental management that are subsequently applied when interpreting ancillary legislation regulating biodiversity, air quality, etc.

The promulgation of framework legislation can be instrumental in guiding the land-reform process towards a win-win scenario of this nature.

While the application of NEMA has not been without its problems, the idea certainly has merit and could readily be applied to land reform. Framework legislation could, for example, include the following basic principles:

  • Ownership should be transferred to beneficiaries wherever reasonably possible;
  • Freedom of association must be respected, meaning that communities should be able to organise into the structure of their choice, but collectivisation should never be imposed as a condition to benefitting from land reform -- where communal claims are concerned, a beneficiary should be able to "opt out" and be compensated in some way or another;
  • Land reform must be pro-poor when it is fully funded by the state; but
  • Public-private partnerships with credible institutions should be pursued on which aspirant commercial farmers are set to benefit; and
  • Land reform must result in meaningful empowerment, including the ability to make decisions regarding land use, governance and related issues.

One of the most striking findings of the panel is that land reform has shifted away from benefitting the poor towards favouring the elite. Hence it made the recommendation that land-reform programmes should be designed primarily to benefit the poor.

This recommendation ties up well with the concept of blended financing models, in the sense that the state can focus its resources on helping those who require land for housing or subsistence needs, while incentivising the private sector to help aspirant black commercial farmers become competitive through "soft loans" in a PPP format.

The promulgation of framework legislation can be instrumental in guiding the land-reform process towards a win-win scenario of this nature.

The idea may not sound revolutionary, but then, one could argue that a pragmatic approach which results in accelerated land transfer and meaningful economic empowerment of beneficiaries will indeed be nothing short of revolutionary.