Construction workers look at the ground leveling work at the Breaking New Ground (BNG) development site during a development and progress report meeting in Masiphumelele, Cape Town, South Africa, August 31, 2017. EPA-EFE / NIC BOTHMA
One of the most interesting questions about the "land debate", as it is often mentioned in the South African media – the debate on the merits of amending the Constitution to provide for expropriation of agricultural land without compensation (EWC) – is why we have it in the first place, why it is coming now, and why it has moved so quickly to the center of the political debate.
Two thirds of the population of South Africa now live in cities and villagesand are not dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. We are largely an urbanized, modern society, and most of us – including the majority of the poor – rely on survival, not on destroying crops of the land, but on food bought in stores.
So why is land reform an issue that for twenty years more or less banned the margins of political life in South Africa, suddenly with such consuming political interest? Why, for example, university students, such as the Fallist Rhodes scientist Ntokozo Qwabe – certainly not someone who plans to go farming soon – would argue that 'for black people, freedom without land is false'? Why is land reform so ?? s hot potato? And why is it so difficult to solve?
In a recent column UCT scientist Pierre de Vos asked a similar question. Why, he wondered, is it so difficult to have a rational conversation about what a simple thing should be – "how to redistribute as quickly as possible without shaking the economy" (De Vos 2018)? In response, he suggested four possible reasons: firstly, white arrogance and ignorance about history; secondly, the economic fears caused by the prospect of expropriation; thirdly, the deep emotional connections that many people (white and black) feel with the country; and finally the considerable complexity to find out how a sensible amendment would actually look like.
In my opinion, all those reasons at one level make sense. But I also think that the problems are more complex. In my opinion, one of the central difficulties in the land reform debate is that it is not just about land. It is rather about political involvement: the value of our constitution, the nature of South Africa as a political community and the meaning of citizenship.
In South Africa, talking about land is talking about history: land, as Robert Mugabe famously noted, is "the last colonial issue". And this means that under and above the agrarian issue lies that used to be the national ask. And that is not a question that we can avoid. Let me explain.
For starters, I think De Vos has one important thing wrong. He assumes that the debate on EWC is first and foremost one policy question: a technical debate about how agricultural land can be redistributed as quickly or efficiently as possible. I think this is based on a misunderstanding.
The point is not only that, as President Cyril Ramaphosa has pointed out, the Constitution already in principle permits expropriation below the market value (and therefore even for zero compensation) where it is fair and equitable. It is also true that, as the academic Ruth Hall has pointed out, from the point of view of technical land reform policy, EOR is largely a red herring.
This is why: firstly, although there are certainly some problems with "willing buyer-willing seller", the requirement to pay compensation is in fact not a major obstacle to land reform. Given the size of the South African tax authorities, it would have been perfectly possible to redistribute much more land in the past 20 years than we do. We can pay it.
Secondly, you would mistakenly assume that expropriation (with or without compensation) will make land reform easier or accelerate. The reality is that expropriation is a very last resort. If you want to purchase land quickly, the easiest way to agree on a price is to get it. The way of expropriation, on the other hand, is occupied by lawyers. Any expropriation – even after a constitutional amendment – requires permission from the court and you can be sure that the current owner will fight you at every step.
Thirdly, if you want to find a reason for the slow pace of land reform, the real causes lie somewhere else: not in the costs of land, but in the poor design of land reform policy. Land reform has not been for the poor; instead, it focused on establishing a small class of black commercial farmers – and that happened under economic conditions (rapid globalization, growing supermarket power and climate change) that make that goal almost impossible. Even with EOR, land reform as it now exists is dead in the water.
Admittedly, there are certainly some instances where EWC can help. Consider, for example, the need to improve the occupancy rate of laborers in many parts of the country. Most of these tenants have owned property on white land for generations. Sometimes they were even long before the whites arrived. Just and fair compensation under those circumstances is perhaps nominal, even zero. But although this would make a big difference to their livelihood, it will hardly change the agricultural structure of South Africa.
So what is really going on? Why did the demand for expropriation without compensation find so much resonance in South Africa?
I think that a big reason is that the demand for expropriation without compensation is linked to much broader and deeply felt questions about historical justice and accountability. The arguments are often Morale, not legal. Think of how the most passionate proponents of EWC keep referring to the current owners of the country thieves – whether they have obtained the land legally and even if they have only recently bought it, after the end of apartheid.
Often the requirement to take back land without compensation is linked to the desire to punish historical offenses: a demand, as Stephen Grootes recently suggested, not only that black people should to get something, but that white people should to lose something. Many of the more radical supporters of the EWC even go so far as to reject the legitimacy of technical policy considerations. The country, like Andile Mngxitama of Black First, Land First (BLF) never tired of pointing, belonged to the black people to start with. Black people simply have to take it back, with violence if necessary, and damn the policy's worthiness.
Mngxitama is easily dismissed as a figure in the margin. But this way of thinking resonates far beyond the BLF. The point is that the country, in much of this debate, is a proxy issue: a symbol of the underlying injustice of colonialism itself. Anger about the non-redistribution of commercial agricultural land to black South Africans is linked to a much broader sense of general economic marginalization and political frustration. Possession of the lion's share of agricultural land by white farmers and large companies is a political issue, not only because of what it means for the countryside, but also because it is a political abbreviation for the continued existence of white privilege as such. In this context, the demand for expropriation without compensation is not, as De Vos assumes, primarily an intervention in a policy debate. It is a political requirement for it recognition. It is a requirement for the validation of the prior right of those who were here first. It does not worry about who country belong to but whose country This is really true.
This is an important point, not least because we as a nation have had a working answer to that question over the past 24 years. That response is embodied, not in the ownership clause of our constitution, but in the preamble, where it says, in line with the words of the Charter of Freedom, that South Africa belongs to everyone who lives in it.
In 1955, when these words were first written, and in 1996, when they were incorporated into our nation's founding covenant, these words served to formulate an important principle: they were directly opposed to the racist definitions of South -African nation imposed by Apartheid State … and before that, by the government of the pact, by the Land Act of 1913 and by the 1910 law of the Union itself. To those who have defined the South African political community in racial or ethnic terms, it has formulated a different vision: a distinctly modern vision of a political community that crosses the racial boundaries, a community where everyone – white or black, settler or indigenous , could hear as legal equals. That vision describes, not a current reality, but a future to strive for.
The real question that South Africa is facing today is whether we still believe in that vision. The problem is not only that there are major inequalities. The question is whether we still believe in a joint national project of overcome this inequality through democratic transformation, political solidarity and inclusive growth.
It seems that the jury is out now. The initial optimism that accompanied the end of apartheid has disappeared. The 'better life for all & # 39; promised by the new dispensation has in fact not come true. In some circles Nelson Mandela is portrayed more and more often, not as an admirable visionary and a statesman, but as a sale. In fact, the legitimacy of the post-apartheid political order is at stake – and with it the notion of a united, democratic, multicultural South African people is increasingly being dismissed as rainbow nationalism.
A very important point has to be made here. And this is that, in a situation like this, if you still believe in the vision of the Freedom Charter, relying on these historical documents is not enough. First and foremost, I believe that the constitution of South Africa and its vision of a transversal political community are still valid and vital. But the legitimacy of this vision can not be accepted. Just like trust in a relationship, it must be earned. People will only buy in if it seems to be able to realize its promise or vision. And if the vision of South Africa as a country that belongs to all who live in it is called into question, then we must understand the reasons why.
In my opinion, the search for answers will take us much further than land reform: it requires us to confront everything that is broken in South Africa, not just the uneven distribution of land, but the absence of urban jobs and tenure security – and the catch. and corruption of the South African state. The historical causes of poverty and marginalization experienced by the vast majority of the black population of South Africa are certainly in the loss of the country (which was not only caused by Apartheid, but also by the character and direction of the capitalist growth).
But the current reality is also in the urban areas and in the fundamental functioning of our economy and our government institutions. The deep gap between rural and urban life that was typical of South African society in the first half of the 20 yearsth The century has long passed. We can be a racially divided country, but the economy is one. And although redistribution of agricultural land can make a significant difference to the segments of the population that are still dependent on agriculture, the most urgent answers lie in the need to find ways to involve poor people in the urban and non-agricultural economies. , and to ensure that the government apparatus actually serves the poor and marginal people who have brought it to power.
IIf we do not confront those questions, no amount of rumbling with rural areas will make a difference. DM
Professor Andries du Toit is director of the Institute for Poverty, Agricultural and Agricultural Studies (PLAAS)
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