Land reform tops the state agenda

Next year it will be one hundred years since the 1913 Land Act was passed, dispossessing Africans of 77% of the land.
As we approach this centenary, it is useful to reflect on the damage inflicted by the colonial government – and continued by the apartheid regime – to focus on the way forward. We cannot allow the sins of the past to cloud our shared future and vision for the country. The land grab forced the black majority off land they had customarily farmed and lived on for generations. Sol Plaatje best described how painful it was at the time for Africans to be treated as non-entities in the land of their birth. He observed:
“Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”
The consequence of that move continues to be felt to this day. The dispossession destroyed social structures, cultures and broke up families. It destroyed the potential economic growth that could have thrived from these farming communities.
The land dispossession led to the black majority losing their means of existence.
There was no compensation for loss of their most productive land and worse still, to be relocated to the unproductive part+s of the country. The social structures were unsettled as men had to leave their families to seek employment in the booming urban centres away from their rural homesteads.
The new democratic government that took over in 1994 inherited this painful legacy that brought untold misery, especially to the black majority.
This government has committed itself to help disadvantaged communities secure or retain access to their land in accordance with the rule of law. Significantly, it committed to free all South Africans from the injustices that were brought about by the 1913 Land Act.
Former president Nelson Mandela in his inaugural address as head of the country said: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”
As we approach the centenary of the 1913 Land Act , government continues to walk the talk. It adheres to, and enforces the rule of law. We are guided by our progressive Constitution that recognises and sets out to address our past.
Section 25 (5) of our Constitution asserts: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.” More importantly, property rights are protected in South Africa.
Section 25 (1) states that “no one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property”. Section 25 further allows the government to expropriate land with compensation.
The expropriation of land without compensation is not government policy. Responding to the debate on the State of the Nation address earlier this year, President Jacob Zuma reiterated the view that land would be distributed in accordance with the provisions of the law of this country: “As a responsible government, we resolved to address the land reform problem through restitution, redistribution and tenure reform within the confines of the Constitution, informed by the national policy of reconciliation and nation building.”
There is general agreement that land reform has not moved as rapidly as we would have preferred, and there is a need to speed up the transfer of returning land to the black majority.
According to the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, 6.7 million hectares of land had so far been transferred – through redistribution and restitution. There are also those who fear that land restitution could lead to food insecurity.
However, President Zuma has consistently assured everyone that government aims to redistribute land without jeopardising food security or exports.
However, like all policies, land reform needs to be constantly reviewed to achieve its objectives of distributing land fairly and equitably.
It is against this background that government introduced a new policy framework, the Green Paper on Land Reform, to reverse the negative impact of the Natives Land Act of 1913. As Zuma highlighted in his reply to the debate on his State of the Nation speech this year, land is an extremely sensitive issue to the black majority and must be handled with utmost care. Therefore, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform established the National Reference Group (Nareg) to ensure that we deal with it in a systematic and responsible way.
Nareg comprises representatives from traditional leadership, organised agriculture, emerging farmers and government. They serve as a reference point and forum to discuss and formulate proposals for the Green Paper. The work of Nareg is borne out of the realisation that we cannot let the land issue remain unresolved for much longer.
The distribution of land and agricultural reform is aligned to the National Development Plan (NDP) produced by the National Planning Commission (NPC) in the Presidency.
The country’s long-term vision document, the NDP identifies agriculture as the primary economic activity in rural areas and has the potential to create close to one million new jobs by 2030. The plan further proposes a number of approaches to land reform and it’s financing.
The president expanded on some of these proposals during his address to the African Farmers Association of South Africa.
He stated: “The plan proposes a district-based approach to land reform and its financing. It proposes that each district should establish a district land reform committee where all stakeholders are involved. This committee will be responsible for identifying 20% of the commercial agricultural land in the district and giving commercial farmers the option of assisting its transfer to black farmers.”
The proposals being put forward are aimed at ensuring land is redistributed in a manner that generate livelihoods, employment and incomes. The issue must be resolved through a process of fair and equitable restitution and redistribution.
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)

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