Few political policies have evoked as much emotion as government’s Land Reform Programme. To address the issues surrounding this contentious policy, we assembled an expert webinar panel as part of our #CitadelHotTopics series.
“Almost 80% of the South African population dwells in the peripheral areas of land where people don’t have legally recognised rights,” said panelist Bulelwa Mabasa. “Where people who live in urban informal settlements or even in communal rural settings don’t have legal instruments that speak to their citizenship, their belonging. We need to start repacking land reform as a potential lever for nation building.”
Working on the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform, Mabasa is also a Director and Head of Land Reform Restitution and Tenure at Werksmans Attorneys. The need to adjust land reform to accommodate the current realities our country faces, and to address the underlying issues it raises, were just some of the fascinating ideas under discussion during the 3 February webinar.
Just weeks before the approval of a new dedicated court established to adjudicate land reform matters, Citadel’s webinar on land reform revealed just how vital such a court would be. Hosted by developmental economist and radio presenter Ayabonga Cawe, the webinar featured Mabasa, political analyst and commentator, Lawson Naidoo, and Associate Professor in Public Law at the University of Cape Town, Richard Calland. Their discussions centered around the intricacies, pitfalls and progresses in land reform.
UNDERSTANDING LAND REFORM
Kicking things off, Mabasa explained the three pillars upon which land reform rests, namely restitution, redistribution and tenure.
- Restitution is a process through which individuals, communities or families that were dispossessed of land from 19 June 1913 onwards could submit claims for to the commission for restitution of land rights either through the restoration of land or financial compensation.
- Redistribution says that the state must take all reasonable measures to ensure we achieve equitable redistribution of land, which is arguably where we’ve fallen short. No prior land claim is required here.
- Tenure envisages an ability of South African citizens to be able to be protected from arbitrary evictions.
“Let’s not only speak about those three levers but to open up the discussion in such a way that we recognise land for its contested meanings,” said Mabasa, “For history, for politics and economically so it doesn’t become a linear discussion that doesn’t help us to find new solutions.”
“How do we create a more equitable framework for the distribution of land in South Africa based on need, rather than just on the basis of historical claim?” asked Naidoo, zoning in on the subject of much current debate.
Naidoo, who is also the Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), said that in this context, we’re not only referring to agricultural land. We’re also talking about people who are in dire need of land in urban and peri-urban areas enabling them to live closer to where economic opportunities lie.
This is not just about land ownership, but also raises questions about rights to security of tenure – being able to lay down roots somewhere and know that you’re not going to be arbitrarily evicted. A classic example of this is labour tenants like farmworkers, whose tenure is linked to their employment. “All of these issues have to be addressed holistically in a complementary framework,” he said, “and we’re only beginning to see the start of this.”
In urban areas there’s a growth of land hunger, of people queuing for housing and eventually establishing a dwelling on unoccupied land, creating a dilemma for local municipalities in terms of housing and the supply of services. “These are critical issues that we need to have as part of an integrated plan on how we deal with the issue of access to land and providing a roof over the heads of one’s family,” said Naidoo.
WHAT LAND REPRESENTS
Calland spoke of the emotive and intrinsically political debate that surrounds land reform. “The shadow of what happened in Zimbabwe over the last 20 years hangs over the picture,” he said.
Yet it’s more nuanced and regulated in our context, he argued. “As South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has often said, reform will take place under the banner of the rule of law and the constitutional rights will be protected. Yet there’s no denying that the land issue has been the subject of some political exploitation from certain factions within and outside of the African National Congress (ANC), especially in terms of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Ultimately, land reform is a complex, multifaceted issue that cannot be addressed through narrow-minded, simplistic solutions. “When parliament went on an elongated roadshow two years ago to hear the views of ordinary South Africans, the debate was rarely about the details of policy,” said Calland, “but often about the emotive and understandably angry voices of people that feel socially and economically excluded from their own society and economy.”
“In that sense, land is a proxy, for many other important issues of policy regarding how we run the economy, how we share resources and how we create jobs and so on,” Calland noted. So the land policy issue, as well as the inclusiveness it implies, needs to be urgently and properly tackled, he argued.
To date, said Calland, government’s land reform programme has been a dismal failure and it’s now time to rethink how we’re going to address this. “We have to look at it through the point of view of the progressive realisation of rights within the context of available resources.”
The land question in South Africa is not something to be resolved by government alone, concluded Mabasa. “As much as the constitution says this is the state’s responsibility, history and logic tells us that everyone has to be a stakeholder.”