A new government proposal suggests that all farmland is to be split up equally between current owners and current labourers. But who is going to get the short end of the stick?
Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti made some provocative remarks in parliament on Tuesday, telling the National Assembly that the current state of affairs relating to the issue of land reform was in his view “unsustainable”.
“We have been bending over backwards as black people. It is time that all of us took responsibility for progress, for South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,” Nkwinti told MPs, while reaping widespread support.
Nkwinti made his statements in relation to recent proposals that call for farmers to release half their land to be given away to their workers. The premise of the proposals, which is based on a policy paper published by the government in February 2014 entitled “Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land”, has been causing outrage among white farmers in South Africa, prompting harsh reactions especially among Afrikaner groups, who historically have been associated with farming.
The official document suggests that the way forward to settle the gridlocked affairs of land reform and land restitution would be to grant workers ownership of half of the land on which they are employed – as long as their employment has been associated with the same farm for at least ten years. This would leave the historical owners of land to keep the other half.
Under the controversial proposal, the government does not intend to pay the historical owners any compensation for wilfully redistributing half of their land, but aims to invest into a complicated fund intended to develop these new plots of land instead, which in each instance will be financed to the exact equivalent of the market value of the taken land.
Profits from this fund will reportedly benefit all stakeholders in the land in the form of dividends, which includes the historical owners of land as well as the government itself. However, it remains uncertain what level of income this abstract scheme may yield or how successful this proposal may be.
With further legislative changes also being rushed through parliament recently, including the so-called Investment Bill as well as recent amendments to the Petroleum Resources Development Act, which give government unprecedented regulatory powers when it comes to the administration of private property, many fear that farmers and land owners are still in for a rude awakening in the future, and that the accumulative powers of these various legal acts may have devastating long-term effects on current property owners.
Despite the unprecedented level of infringement on private property rights enshrined in the new policy paper, Nkwinti finds that these sacrificial imperatives sanctioned and protected by law are justified, and that the proposed measures were “proportional to [the labourers’] contribution to the development of the land, based on the number of years they had worked on the land”.
The proposed scheme is now open to public comment until April 2015. In addition to attracting criticism for its inherently inequitable practices the proposal has also faced some stark scrutiny against the backdrop of the failure of previous land reform efforts and other government-mandated transformation measures post-apartheid such as BEE; official reports in 2010 conceded that 95 percent of land redistributed to date has not yielded any productive results in terms of agriculture or farming.
But Nkwinti says that the tide is turning on the underused masses of land that have been given away so far under land reform measures: “But today, 27 percent of that land is productive. In fact, over the past three years, we’ve produced at least three millionaires, people who’ve got cash in the bank.”
While reaping applause from wide circles of parliamentary MPs for trying to push land reform forward it was also noted that not all lawmakers joined in enthusiastically to support Nkwinti. Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald said that this kind of legislation failed South Africans by encouraging further numbers of farmers to emigrate, calling the new proposal “irresponsible”.
Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille also shared her views: “[They] will exacerbate insecurity, destroy jobs, escalate the already catastrophic exodus of farming expertise from the industry, and have dire implications for food security in the medium-term.”
By Sertan Sanderson, 2014