Land reform: Constitution must be implemented, not changed

Mmusi Maimane says under ANC rule only 8-10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed or restored to black people


This week, Parliament took a decision to set up a committee to explore amending the Constitution to enable expropriation without compensation. The motion was proposed by the EFF, supported by the ANC and rejected by the DA.

This decision has nothing to do with achieving justice for poor, black South Africans and everything to do with ANC internal politics and EFF populism, all at the expense of the poor.

The DA will fight it with every constitutional mechanism available to us.

Let’s be clear. Land reform in South Africa is non-negotiable. Land dispossession was the original apartheid sin, destroying black people’s ability to own productive assets and build intergenerational wealth.

Beyond that, it produced the migrant labour system, which tore black families apart, depriving children of their fathers and wives of their husbands. Those wounds are woven into our social fabric and will endure for generations to come.

SA’s land ownership patterns, however, can and must be normalised. Our Constitution doesn’t just enable this; it demands it.

25. (5) 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.

Successful land reform, as directed by our Constitution, would produce an altogether better country: more productive, more united, more at peace with itself and the world.

But in the past 24 years of ANC rule, only 8-10% of commercial farmland has been redistributed or restored to black people. In urban areas, black people live on the margins, mostly on state-owned land.

The ANC’s about-turn in policy direction is a direct response to this abject failure. It diverts blame onto the Constitution. The ANC knows very well that the Constitution is an enabler rather than an impediment to land reform.

That’s why they rejected a similar EFF motion in February 2017, with ANC MP Jeremy Cronin saying: “I agree, therefore, with former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, that clause 25 is in fact radical in both spirit and in its letter. And I further concur with the Judge that it is misguided to blame clause 25 for the weaknesses in land reform.”

And it diverts attention away from the real reasons for the slow pace of meaningful reform: corruption, inefficiency, bad policy, lack of political will and chronic underfunding. Kgalema Motlanthe’s High Level Panel report confirmed this: “Experts advise that the need to pay compensation has not been the most serious constraint on land reform in South Africa to date – other constraints, including increasing evidence of corruption by officials, the diversion of the land reform budget to elites, lack of political will, and lack of training and capacity have proved more serious stumbling blocks to land reform.”

The ANC’s about-turn on expropriation without compensation is not about creating a property-owning and prosperous generation of formerly dispossessed black South Africans. It is about entrenching power in the ANC.

The small budget allocated to land reform over the years, and the slow pace of progress proves the ANC’s disinterest in really building a thriving, diverse agricultural sector.

No, this is about putting the interests of the ANC above the interests of the country. And in doing so, the ANC is recklessly and irresponsibly steering SA down a dangerous path, one already well-trodden by Zimbabwe.

This is not to say that SA’s situation is directly comparable with Zimbabwe’s. SA society is more urbanized and our economy more diversified. So we have more buffer.

But there are still plenty of lessons to be learnt. In his speech rejecting the EFF’s motion on expropriation last year, ANC MP Jeremy Cronin put it perfectly, warning that our laws and our Constitution must be written not just with honourable politicians in mind.

“What if…we get a parasitic emerging elite linked to a future government pursuing private accumulation? Imagine how in the name of public interest expropriation without compensation will be exploited? And we know exactly what will happen, because we just need to look across the Limpopo to see who are the main victims when this happens, the same black majority who have been oppressed in the past: farm workers, the urban and rural poor, with chronic food shortages and skyrocketing food prices as a small connected elite seize land in the name of the public interest. So, be careful what you wish for, I say to my colleagues across there on the EFF.”

Both the ANC and EFF are for a system in which the state owns redistributed land and leases it to black farmers. This leaves black farmers disempowered and opens the way for massive corruption. The DA, on the other hand, is strongly committed to full transfer of individual ownership and real empowerment.

Economic growth requires a thriving market economy in which property rights are protected. Neither locals nor foreigners, rich nor poor, black nor white will want to invest in SA if property rights are not secure. Banks will be reluctant to lend money with property as collateral. The impact on agricultural production could be disastrous, putting food and farmworker job security at risk, as land productivity falls.

Look no further than the communal trust lands, where 18 million people have no security of tenure, to see the underinvestment, low productivity and poverty that results.

Agricultural land reform must involve a steady, resourced, sustainable transfer of ownership through constitutional mechanisms and through incentivising employee share ownership schemes, coupled with maximum support for emerging farmers. Our success rate for land reform farms in the Western Cape is 62%, against a national average of just 10%.

In urban areas, the DA supports a transfer of title deeds to households. The administrative process is slow, but we have already delivered 75000 title deeds to urban dwellers. This is meaningful urban land reform, giving people a real stake in the urban economy closer to work opportunities.

The fact is, the DA is the party fighting hardest to undo the legacy of apartheid sustainably and within the law, and we have the proudest track record of actually doing so. And we will keep fighting against populists and autocrats who want to concentrate power and ownership in the state. The Constitution was specifically written to protect all South Africans against an overly powerful state. It must be protected and implemented, not changed.

Mmusi Maimane
DA Leader