Expropriation and restitution: The nitty gritty.

Pete Bower

Although it will take the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the negotiating skills of Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer combined to stitch a plan together that is acceptable to all, land restitution, with or without compensation, is going to become a reality in the near-term future. And this, of course, despite that fact that it has been part of our body politick since 1994, dismal failure though it may have been.

It’s a multi-legged issue that the politicians are trying to address.

There’s the uncomfortable colonial reality that European settlers and colonials dispossessed black families, communities and tribes in wars, treaties and laws dating back far earlier than the easily-identified dispossession that took place with the 1913 Native Land Act. Not to mention the forced removals and Bantustan policy of the Apartheid era. All of those thousands of homesteads established by those removed to Bophutatswana, Venda, Transkei and Ciskei, etc? They were never properly surveyed, and the “owners” never received title to their land.

There’s the cultural and traditional reality of land ownership, tenure and occupation in South Africa. While some land is secured by deed of sale, registered with the Deeds Office and often financed by a bank, other land is occupied communally and used accordingly, by age-old customs which vary from nation to nation. In KwaZulu-Natal, for example, the Ngonyama Trust, of whom the King is the trustee, “owns” some four million hectares, which is occupied by his subjects.

And, of course, the state in its ridiculously over-complicated three-tier format, owns vast tracts through municipalities, provinces and national departments.

Then there’s the economic nightmare of inequality in our society, and the unsustainable reality of the small number of taxpayers funding the large number of social welfare recipients, not to mention the suicidally-high level of unemployment, officially at 26%-plus, but arguably much higher.

And, probably not finally, there are the political realities of an election looming, and the associated populist posturings of the ANC, desperate to retain ~ or regain ~ its support base, coupled to the firebrand and frankly racist radical socialism espoused loudly by Julius Malema and his EFF.

That makes for one helluva omelette to try to unscramble.

Although it’s probably too early to gauge with certainty, the ANC’s approach would seem to address the historical, economic and populist realities outlined above by carving up parcels of land and handing them out to previously dispossessed families. This, the ANC hopes, will solve the problem of inequality by giving many poor families a bankable, if not saleable, asset through which to raise money; it will solve the problem of unemployment by creating a new class of smallholder farmer, and it will ensure family and local food security, if not national food security, by the abundance of produce such a new class of farmer will grow and sell.

And all of this, despite a very similar model of land redistribution having by-and-large failed dismally over the past 24 years…

But here’s a nitty-gritty issue that the ANC probably hasn’t thought of yet: What, precisely, will be the size of the piece of land it proposes to hand out to the new recipients? Will it go for a simple, one-size-fits-all approach and carve up the land into parcels of, say, 2Ha, or 5Ha? Or 10Ha? Or will it complicate its life immeasurable by attempting to establish what a workable size would be in any particular area?

For example, if you own 2Ha of the Cape winelands you don’t own a smallholding. You own a wine farm. 2Ha of the Great Karroo, by contrast, is probably smaller than the average Karroo farmer’s back yard.

And on 2Ha of land in eastern Gauteng you and your family will starve to death if you try growing an extensive crop such as mielies. But if you establish a tunnel farm, growing high-value mini-veg for airfreight export to Europe, for example, you could become as rich as your wine farm-owning fellow recipient in the Western  Cape.

The point is that, whatever model the ANC finally alights upon, it needs to guard against simply developing another class of peasant subsistence farmers who still need help in the form of social grants.

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