Philani Mkhize and Shaka Dzebu of SACBC Justice and Peace recently attended the land summit organized by the government.    Philani Mkhize shares his reflection about the summit:

Looking back 20 years ago, when the democratic dispensation concerned itself with resolving the land question, a land reform programme with three specific components aimed at dealing with the three major aspects of the history that resulted in the scale of land ownership imbalance that South Africa experienced, was developed.  This programme was informed by the fact of history that blacks in South Africa were landless as a result of white settlers having dispossessed them.   Land and livestock theft started in the 17th century as the history would have it.  And yet when we had an opportunity to reverse this history, we chose to limit ourselves to the dispossession that took place from 1913 when a law was passed to legitimise what had already been happening for more than 2 centuries earlier.

The first aspect we chose to start with was land dispossessions that started in 1913 when the government of the union of South Africa passed the law, the Natives Land Act.  As a result of this act, many black people experienced further losses of land, property and livestock.  To deal with this, the Restitution Act was passed in 1994.  It provided an opportunity for all black people who were removed from land or denied land rights as a result of the 1913 Land Act and other discriminatory practices of previous regimes, to lodge claims against the state to have either their land rights restored, be given alternative land or be compensated financially.  Almost 80 000 claims were lodged, 90% have been resolved, albeit the majority have been through financial compensation.  When stories of financial compensations began to spread, many people, especially urban based, realised that they missed an opportunity to gain financially.  As it is now common cause, the government has since amended the Act to reopen the next round of lodgements of claims.  It’s on again for the next 5 years.

The second aspect was landlessness, as a result of discriminatory laws and practices of the past.  The question to address was what to do for the rest of the black population that was landless.  Mechanisms to enable such people to acquire land were devised.  Several kinds of state grants were established for this purpose.

The third aspect of history created people who stayed on privately owned land as labour tenants, or communal areas which were used as labour reserves for farms and mines.  This rendered these people vulnerable to evictions and other forms of abuse.   The question to answer was how to ensure that people living on commercial farming areas as labour tenants and farm workers and in other communal areas had secure tenure.  Laws were passed to regulate evictions on commercial farming areas, address labour tenants issues, but they had very little,-  if at all -, impact in reducing the rate of evictions and protecting people’s rights.  On the table now is what the Minister referred to as, ‘final proposals for strengthening the relative rights of people working the land’.  This document proposes, among other things, the 50-50 sharing of land and enterprises between current land owners and workers who are disciplined and have worked for the minimum number of 10 years on farms.  One of the unintended consequence of this proposal may be the ejection of people who may have worked for less than 10 years.  Something similar has already been happening in some areas.  According to reports by the Landless People’s Movement some farms have been requiring labour tenants’ children turning 18 to leave the farms for fear that they might acquire labour tenancy rights.  Some critics see it as massive investment in private commercial land by the state.  Recommendations were very difficult to come by because the debates in the commissions that were dealing with this were very heated, and there were even suggestions that the proposals be scrapped.  The Minister demonstrated his seriousness about this matter that the commissions that were tasked to produce workable recommendations were sent back to work on them again.

On the question of communal land tenure the Minister shared an anecdote about an old woman who approached him during one of his outings, and reported that after the death of her husband, the local traditional authority took away her land.  This, for the Minister, highlighted the gap in communal land tenure practices that exist.  Although in this story, it was a traditional leader who acted in this manner, in a CPA run area, it could happen.   The Minister further said about the CPAs, that they were an imposition of the government, and created communal lands within communal lands.  Pitted CPA Committees against Traditional Authorities.  This is the reason he proposed a new model, where households in rural areas would have some form of titles to land, to prevent arbitrary actions such as the one the old woman reported.  He called for the clear definition of the role of traditional authorities in relation to land.  He made an example of the principle of separation of powers that is applied by the state, where executive and administrative functions reside in different structures.  He challenged delegates to deliberate on this in the relevant commissions and give him recommendations.

One of the questions that emerged over the past 20 years of democracy has been how much land in South Africa is owned and controlled by foreigners.  A panel of experts was set up to investigate this matter and produced a report.  The issues raised therein influenced the Green Paper, wherein a four-tier land tenure system is proposed.  Foreign land ownership will be regulated, limited and conditions will be imposed.  The limit to agricultural landholdings or ceilings has been opposed by organised agricultural formations.

The recent land tenure summit brought together more than 2000 delegates from all corners of South Africa to deliberate on the proposals that the Department developed to fix the land questions.  Post the summit, the Department will take all the recommendations, make sense of them and produce the final resolutions or policies.