THE BLACK AND WHITE GREEN PAPER ON LAND REFORM
By Dave Steward
Few documents provide a more disheartening illustration of the degree to which our national discourse has been re-racialised than the recently published Green Paper on Land Reform.
The Green Paper’s ideological fountainhead is the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution – which, believe it or not, still views South Africa through the prism of a continuing liberation struggle against whites. The ideology is reflected in the Green Paper’s assertion that “all anti-colonial struggles are, at the core, about two things: repossession of land lost through force or deceit; and, restoring the centrality of indigenous culture.” The authors are actually saying that seventeen years after 1994 the anti-colonialist struggle is not over; whites are colonialists; the struggle is against them; and only the indigenous culture should be central.
According to the Green Paper, “…the debate about agrarian change, land reform and rural development” should begin with national sovereignty – since national sovereignty is defined in terms of land. The implication is that national sovereignty will not be restored until a sufficient amount of land has been repossessed by black South Africans. In the Green paper’s view this ‘fundamental assumption’ should supersede all other considerations, including “talk of effective land reform and food sovereignty and security.”
But how can this be? Is this ‘fundamental assumption’ really more important than the nation’s food security? Is the United States any less sovereign because all its agricultural land is owned by less than 3% of the population? And how does ownership of land by white citizens detract from national sovereignty?
There follows the standard historic analysis of colonialists who turned blacks into “vassals and slaves”; of the “brutalisation” of African people by colonialism and apartheid; and of “the systematic denudation and impoverishment of African people…” According to the Green Paper, black people fortunately have an enormous capacity to forgive whites despite “the anger, bitterness and pain of those who have been subjected to this brutal treatment” “BUT, this goodwill should not be taken for granted, because it is not an inexhaustible social asset”.
Much of this cri de coeur (or de guerre?) is a true reflection of the deep hurt that black South Africans continue to feel about the past. Many black South Africans were undoubtedly dispossessed unfairly of their land and prevented from owning land outside the homelands. It is precisely for this reason that our constitutional accord made provision for a balanced process of restitution and land reform. Organisations like AgriSA have consistently shown that they support land reform and that they are willing to co-operate with government in this regard.
However, the Green paper’s historic analysis gives a hopelessly skewed. May white South Africans have strong historic, legal and moral claims to the land they farm. Also, a substantial proportion of agricultural land has changed hands since 1994.
The Green Paper’s solution to the land problem is ‘Agrarian Transformation’ – which is ‘a rapid and fundamental change in the relations (systems and patterns of ownership and control) of land, livestock, cropping and community.’ In terms of its proposals there would be four categories of land tenure: state and public land that would be subject to leasehold; privately owned land – that would be freehold but with ‘limited extent’; foreign owned land that would be freehold with ‘precarious tenure’ and subject to conditions; and communal land with communal tenure and institutionalised use rights.
The proposed land tenure system would be supported by a number of new agencies, including a Land Management Commission; a Land Valuer-General and a Land Rights Management Board, with local management committees. The new system would go hand in hand with the implementation of the Land Tenure Security Bill, 2010. This is bad news for farm-owners since, according to AgriSA, the Bill would give farm dwellers and their dependents unlimited and comprehensive rights in respect of stock-farming and cropping, services, training housing and roads – and would create unlimited obligations for farmers.
The Green Paper raises more questions than it answers:
• What effect would its recommendations have on local and foreign investment – in agriculture, in particular – and in the broader economy in general?
• How, in the environment created by the Green Paper and Land Tenure Security Bill, would commercial farmers be able to continue to produce the food that all our people need to survive?
• What impact would the involuntary transfer to white-owned farms have on our increasingly fragile race relations?
• The Green Paper candidly admits that “the main constraint is the poor capacity of organs of state to implement.” What makes its authors think that the new bureaucracies they want to establish would function any more effectively than the present structures?
• The supposition is that ‘freehold with limited extent’ means that a cap might be placed on the size or number of farms that a person might own. But how could this possibly be squared with the property rights in the Constitution?
Indeed, it is difficult to see how the Green Paper could be implemented without amending the Constitution. Gugile Nkwinti – the Minister of Land Reform and Rural Development – has already raised this possibility and has warned that land reform is likely to be a red-hot issue at next year’s key ANC Conference at Mangaung.
No reasonable South African would disagree that there is an urgent need for an effective and workable land reform process. However, as F W de Klerk observed in a speech in May last year, any attempt to undermine the property rights in the Constitution would have very negative consequences for agriculture; for national unity; and for future foreign and domestic investment. He pointed out that food security should be a national priority and that successful modern agriculture often requires large farms with high levels of capital, expertise and experience. He called for greater effectiveness in departments dealing with land reform and expressed the need for genuine and effective consultation and cooperation between government and organised agriculture on workable approaches to land reform.
The Green Paper has perhaps succeeded in one important respect: it has accentuated the need for urgent and in-depth discussions between civil society and the ANC not only on land reform, but on the racial and ideological assumptions that underlie its National Democratic Revolution.