Mistakes made in the process now will haunt generations to come.
Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza. Picture: Jacques Nelles
When it comes to the thorny subject of land restitution and land hunger in South Africa, the focus is almost always on the “haves” – farmers particularly – and how a reallocation of land from those privileged people will somehow cure the country’s ills.
What is ignored in this, is that huge tracts of land are already potentially in the reach of those people who would benefit most from land as an asset – the people who live in the former homelands and who have been ruled under traditional systems.
Were they to have their tenure on such land automatically converted to ownership, they could be fast-tracked into the modern economy, able to use that land as collateral for loans with which to improve their subsistence farms and, therefore, their lives.
The Free Market Foundation (FMF) and the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) have sounded a warning about how amendments to land tenure legislation affecting such people might leave decisions on who gets what in the hands of government bureaucrats. This would leave the process open to corruption, never mind the sort of civil service ineptitude which has hobbled many other promising projects over the years.
In addition, the IRR has also warned that the government’s plans for property expropriation without compensation have led to a steady withdrawal of investments in recent years – something which has accelerated in 2020. There is no doubt that land reform is a political necessity and the reality is that, properly conducted, it could bring financial stability, and hope, to millions of the poorest South Africans.
It could also be an engine for economic growth and reduce the possibility that in the years ahead, this country will continue to go to institutions like the International Monetary Fund looking for bailouts. Mistakes made in the process now will haunt generations to come.
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