ANC land policy laid bare

The ANC has distributed a series of discussion documents to its branches in the run-up to the ruling party’s ­national policy conference in June, covering a broad range of topics from affirmative action to corruption. These will inform policy decisions taken at the ANC’s 52nd National Conference in December and will offer rare insight into the party’s thinking on key areas affecting agriculture. Stephan Hofstätter unpacks the implications.

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Reshaping the economy At the ANC’s national policy conference in 1992, on the eve of the 1994 elections, redistributing the nation’s wealth to meet basic needs such as housing, water and electricity was the party’s primary focus. Nationalising the mines and banks, and redistributing 30% of white-owned land within five years of taking power, were policy cornerstones that found concrete expression in the Reconstruction and Development Programme.

Once in office pragmatism prevailed, the ANC realised it inherited a virtually bankrupt state and five years later the rand’s value was plummeting. ANC thinking shifted from redistributing assets from rich to poor (which invariably meant from white to black) to creating a stable macro-economic framework for sustained growth.

The new policy of fiscal discipline and inflation targeting, known as the strategy for Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) calmed investor nerves but did little to alleviate poverty and create jobs. There is no doubt the shift to Gear lies at the heart of tensions within the party and between it and alliance partners.

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Creating jobs and fighting poverty became the party’s rallying call for the 2004 elections that led to the creation of the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative SA, in which private sector partnerships and skills development feature prominently. The focus shifted from redistributing existing assets to the equitable sharing of newly created wealth and opportunities. “We need to ensure that the fruits of growth are shared in such a way that poverty comes as close as possible to being eliminated,” the party stresses in its first discussion document, on economic transformation.

The paper makes it clear affirmative action and black empowerment are non-­negotiables for the ANC. “The symbiosis between political oppression and the apartheid capitalist system was so strong that, if decisive action is not taken to deal with economic subjugation and exclusion, the essence of the apartheid system will remain, with a few black men and women incorporated into the courtyard of privilege,” the paper says. “The old fault lines will persist, and social stability will be threatened.”

Societies that define wealth in terms of ethnic or racial divisions will fail to maintain social or political cohesion. “Therefore, an essential part of a national democratic society is the thorough deracialisation of ownership and control of wealth (including land), management and the professions.”

What it means for agriculture

The ANC regards agriculture an important sector for three reasons: its potential to absorb labour; its production of high-value exports and critical inputs to other sectors of the economy; and its central role in achieving household food security.

“The price of agricultural products has a direct bearing on the cost of living of the poorest communities,” the party says. “All three of these factors need to be taken into account in our programme of agrarian reform.”
The economic discussion document concedes the party will fail to achieve its target of redistributing 30% of white farmland in the next seven years “without a significant acceleration”.

“With a view to ensuring that our targets are met, there is a need to discuss a detailed strategy reformulation, major institutional reform and significant budget adjustments,” the document says.

“Aside from accelerating the pace of land redistribution (and concluding the restitution process), it is vital that we re-emphasise the linkage between the land redistribution and agrarian reform,” the document says.  Research, training and extension services need urgent attention, the party stresses. “The institutional support provided to small-scale and emerging farmers remains weak and inappropriately designed. The role of academic institutions and the deployment of necessary resources to sustain and build agricultural colleges must also be given the requisite attention.”

On farmworker evictions, the discussion document argues the “broad democratic movement”, which presumably means the ANC, its alliance partners and their civil society supporters and affiliates, “must play a much stronger role in sustaining farm-dweller organisations that are able to ensure that legal rights are realised in practice”.

The document also recommends ploughing more resources into implementing the Communal Land Rights Act (Clara), which seeks to convert millions of hectares of tribal land in the former homelands into freehold tenure owned by individuals or communities, and unlock its economic potential.

Farm evictions, Clara and other land ownership and settlement reforms are given plenty of airplay in another ANC discussion document, entitled Social Transformation. It proposes swift implementation of Clara, “including its redistributive objective”, referring to a clause in the act that allows commercial farms bordering communal land to be expropriated where there is insufficient land within former tribal reserves to satisfy competing claims. Rolling out Clara will “make the development opportunities in these areas a reality”.

Clara was enacted in 2004 but has yet to leave the starting blocks. Critics say there’s little political will to take on chiefs, who regard it an erosion of their powers, and the act is too complex and expensive, especially because millions of hectares in communal areas are not yet surveyed. The act is also facing a constitutional challenge, likely to be heard this year, primarily because traditional councils will continue to control land transferred to communities.

The ANC argues the court challenge is delaying finalisation of regulations although it concedes resistance by traditional leaders and high surveying and administration costs are obstacles. “While the implementation of Clara is likely to put a strain on the fiscus, the option of not surveying communal land and other aspects of Clara implementation would retard development of the affected areas,” the document says.

It also argues tenure security of workers living on white-owned commercial farms is “either non-existent or legally insecure because it is derived through a third party, that is, the white commercial farmers and companies involved in agribusiness. As a consequence of this, these farm dwellers and workers were very vulnerable to being evicted on the farms, causing enormous social and economic problems for society and the state”.

It recommends redistributing white-owned farms to “farm dwellers and workers” through existing programmes. “If the white commercial farmland is redistributed to the farm dwellers and workers, tenure insecurity and the possibility of evictions will be eliminated,” the document says.

Challenges identified by the paper are the willing buyer, willing seller (WBWS) principle, conflict between farmworkers and restitution claimants, rising land prices, protracted land buying processes, spatial planning issues (including finding suitable land to match needs) and screening land recipients.

The paper proposes eliminating the “inconsistency” regarding compensation for landowners between the constitution and SA’s White Paper on land reform. The constitution allows expropriation at below-market value, but according to the White Paper, which remains official policy until revisions under discussion are formally adopted, land reform must follow the WBWS principle, with market-based compensation paid.

The ANC discussion document is presumably advocating stepping up expropriation at below-market value, which “will have the effect of reducing the land acquisition prices and simultaneously the lengthy process of land acquisition”.
Levying a land tax to discourage speculation by absentee landlords and holding on to non-productive land, a mandatory ceiling on the size of land holdings and restrictions on land ownership by foreigners – as well as integrating these strategies – are cited under “challenges” in the paper.

“Involvement of foreigners in the SA local land markets pushes up the land prices and thus makes land less available for land and agrarian reform programmes; increases the conversion of agricultural land use from livestock and other activities to game and lifestyle estates; and in some instances poses a security risk,” the paper says. The paper urges the ANC National Conference to “resolve to restrict ownership of land by non-SA citizens”, without going into further detail.

It also laments that government is losing many cases in court, especially those fought over the validity of land claims, “because of our weak land legislation”. The paper proposes the swift finalisation of an amendment to the Expropriation Act, which falls under the Department of Public Works, that allows for forced sales to extend to the broader land redistribution programme (it is currently limited to restitution cases). The ANC regards this amendment as “critical for dealing with those who are resisting our land reform process”.

The party also laments the “fragmentary initiatives” by Land Affairs in dealing with its social and institutional partners when implementing land reform. “Land and agrarian reform cannot be addressed in a sustainable manner by government in isolation,” the paper argues.

The paper voices serious concern that redistributed land is often not used productively, and suggests regulated land use be considered. The paper suggests it may be time to reconsider the prevailing view that communities and individuals, rather than the state, should own land. “The prevalent view is that land owned by individuals leads to release of ­economic potential and remarkable growth, ­communal ownership retards growth as well as that by the state,” the discussion document says. “What should be done with those households who have access to land, but are not using it productively?”

Stopping the rot

The thorny topic of preventing corruption of public officials gets an airing in another discussion document on governance. The ANC concedes people in privileged positions or who have access to privileged information can and do use these to obtain shares, partnerships or jobs not available to others with similar ­qualifications. “For example, a chair of a portfolio ­committee investigates various options for the purchase of a major contract or makes oversight visits to an industry and then obtains shares or obtains employment in that industry; ministers determining policy in a particular area and then being recruited by the beneficiaries of that policy,” the discussion document says.

To remedy this it suggests a dual strategy of emphasising professional skills rather than political connections in the appointment of public servants and recommends a series of regulations to govern public service appointments. These include ­cooling off periods for MPs, premiers, MECs and members of local government councils leaving politics for the private sector.

The paper also suggests officials, ­advisors or elected public representatives who’ve advised government on any project may not become a director, employee or ­consultant of the entity running the project. Once leaving office officials may not take “improper advantage” of their positions while in office. This includes securing preferential treatment or gaining privileged access to government officials or departments; exploiting privileged information obtained in the course of official duties and using their former positions to gain an unfair advantage in getting a job.

The paper suggests considering “­criminal sanctions” against officials who fail to “act in good faith” once leaving public office. “The United States, for example, ­prosecutes individuals for a range of public office violations,” the paper concludes.