Lies on land reform process a disservice to South Africa

Lindiwe Sisulu Special Correspondent
When government announced earlier this year that the issue of land reform would be addressed through a consultative process, interest groups that represent a minority of the people of South Africa started to spread lies and half-truths internationally.

They peddled false and exaggerated information and conclusions that have been disproved many times by concrete facts. The question is: what are the objectives of these groups, which travel internationally, consistently working on a conscious campaign aimed at challenging the sovereignty and institutions of a democratic South Africa?

One of the lies doing the rounds is the notion that a section of the South African population is being targeted for deliberate and calculated violence. While South Africa, like any other country in the world, does experience acts of criminality, there has never been any targeting of any specific part of the populace people because of the colour of their skin, as was the official policy during the many years of apartheid rule.

The land reform process is receiving ongoing attention by government and Parliament, using constitutional channels so as to ensure that the people of South Africa participate in addressing this sensitive issue, which is a legacy of apartheid and racially-exclusive policies that denied the majority of black South Africans their rights, including access to land.

The issue of disparity in land ownership is part of the unfortunate past of South Africa during which ownership was based on the colour of people’s skins. This is part of a cruel history seeing the majority of the people being stripped of their rights, their land and their assets. This history of racially-based and unequal ownership of land among South Africans contributes greatly to the economic disparities experienced today.

Critically, this apartheid legacy means that today, 72 percent of agricultural land is owned by white people; 15 percent by coloured people; 5 percent by Indian people; and 4 percent by African people. This in a country where white people constitute 8,9 percent of the population; Coloured people 8,9 percent; Indian people 0,2 percent; and African people 79,2 percent.

This racial inequity in land ownership, like other forms of injustices in South Africa, continues to cause instability in the country. Since 1994, government has introduced numerous measures to scrap apartheid laws and reverse racial in- equalities, be they in skills development, employment, business opportunities and property ownership.

As part of these efforts to build a non-racial and non-sexist society, government continues to address the huge disparities in land ownership, which is one of the major contributory factors to inequality and social instability.

In February 2018, Parliament adopted a motion, giving a mandate to parliamentarians to investigate the possibility of a constitutional amendment that would allow for land expropriation without compensation as part of redressing the legacy of apartheid. In this way, the public representatives of South Africa decided to embark on a lawful and a constitutional route that includes extensive consultations with the country’s citizens. These consultations have taken place and there has been healthy, robust and useful debates around the issues of land ownership.

The ruling party, the African National Congress, has made it clear that while the parliamentary process is ongoing, there are conditions under which land expropriation without compensation must take place, namely, that land reform should not undermine food security and investment in the economy or damage agricultural production. The land reform process must provide certainty and clarity on property rights. The proposed amendment should reinforce the fundamental principles of property rights and prohibit the arbitrary depravation of property.

Furthermore, no provision must impede the process of land reform. Land to be expropriated would be unused land, derelict buildings, purely speculative land holdings or instances where occupiers have strong historical rights. Another condition is the release of well-located urban land for low-cost housing so that the poor can own property and live closer to economic opportunities. Support to the beneficiaries of land reform through finance, training, market access and the providing the necessary tools of trade, is also a prerequisite.

South Africans who are seriously interested in resolving the problems of our country and want to ensure that we move away from the legacy of apartheid, are encouraged to utilise the legal and constitutional mechanisms that have been made available. – News24

Lindiwe Sisulu is the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation.

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