Land: SA’s real watershed moment

Ever since the National Assembly voted to pass a revised motion brought by the EFF to launch a process to change the Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, every media platform in South Africa has been awash with stories, comments, opinions and statements from those who support and those who reject the idea, as well as those who have not yet taken a firm stance on the matter.

It is as if that moment all South Africans have been waiting for, some with dread, others with anticipation, has now finally arrived.

The time to reveal the true answer to the question that so many have been asking for the last decade or more, “Will South Africa be the next Zimbabwe?”, is drawing near.

More than anything else that has happened in our not-so-young-anymore but still relatively new democracy, I believe that how we solve the land question will be South Africa’s real watershed moment.

Even though research has shown the real demand for land is probably much lower than some politicians would have us believe, as perhaps evidenced by the high number of land claimants who opt for financial compensation instead of land, we cannot move forward as a country without having a meaningful conversation about land, and without putting in motion a process that will genuinely change the demographics of land ownership.

Up until now, the response from organised agriculture to the discussion on land expropriation without compensation has mostly highlighted the likely negative impact this would have on the economy and food security.

Although valid and important, these organisations that represent commercial farmers and agribusinesses need to acknowledge that there is another dimension to land ownership and access that goes beyond the material, and this is the emotional aspect of owning land and farming.

It needs to be better understood and quantified because it will play an integral part in the unfolding land debate.

One of the things that those who are calling for the urgent seizure of land owned by white farmers should consider is the wider role that farms play in rural communities.

Farms don’t only provide income for their owners and jobs for farmworkers; they are often the axis around which entire rural communities revolve.

If you take away the farms and chase away the farmers, you also risk shutting down the towns and the services supplied in those towns, such as schools, formal and informal business opportunities, and access to medical care, which exist only because of the economic ecosystems created by farming.

My greatest fear is that we will not be able to move past the retribution rhetoric that has become more prevalent in the way we talk about land ownership in South Africa.

If we go down this path and land reform becomes nothing more than an act of vengeance, the country will be ripped apart.

My hope is that, when everyone has finally had their say, a solution will emerge that focuses on creating, rather than taking away.