The ongoing battle for sustainable land reform in SA

Government’s many land reform policies and legislation may be intimidating for South Africa’s commercial farmers, but organised agriculture is striving to ensure that these are developed and implemented fairly. Sandy la Marque, CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union, explains.

Much of the legislative framework for land reform and some of the associated policies that are currently on the table are still fluid. Organised agriculture and government are still holding talks on this topic, so aspects of the legislative framework for land reform could potentially change at any time.

To provide context, one must recall that about four years ago government presented organised agriculture with a Green Paper on land reform. Since then Agri SA, as a representative of organised agriculture, has participated in various working groups established by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform (RDLR), Gugile Nkwinti.

Since then, instead of having a single, comprehensive White Paper on land reform emerging from the working groups, each individual policy associated with land reform has come out with its own policy document. There are now at least 14 of these policy documents on the table.

Not just about land
We know that the National Development Plan (NDP) has become the framework that all government departments are working towards. In the Ministerial Inter-Departmental Technical Task Team there are certain outcomes required by the NDP, and all the departments have prioritised achieving these.

So, when we meet with the departments, we not only discuss matters relating to land but also issues such as how South Africa can achieve a far more inclusive integrated rural economy; how to go about achieving successful land reform; how to secure the country’s food security; the empowerment of farm workers; and job creation, among others.

The NDP proposes monitoring land markets to prevent corruption and speculation, and to bring land transfer targets in line with fiscal and economic realities. The NDP specifically proposes offering white farmers the chance to significantly contribute to the success of black farmers through mentorship, chain integration and skills transfer, among others.

Regarding the last, this is where the farming community needs to say to minister Nkwinti that it needs to be given time to explore the various opportunities available to help achieve successful black farmers, before he starts implementing restrictions such as, for example, the proposed 12 000ha land ownership ceiling as mooted.

District land committees
The point that the DRDLR has in particular taken out of the NDP is around public-private partnerships to expand agriculture.
Government has now decided that District Land Committees (DLC) will be one of its new channels for pulling all land issues together. Essentially, this is being driven from the NDP where it talks about how 20% of farmland in each district must be transferred to claimants or other land reform beneficiaries.

The intention of the DLC is to get a group of stakeholders together to identify this 20% of farmland that must be transferred. Land restitution is a key factor, and must be considered when it comes to this intention. When we look at what is currently being proposed with respect to the DLCs, we understand that land restitution is not included as part of the 20% farmland transfer target.

This is one of the issues that the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) will be discussing with minister Nkwinti. The minister and his department need to agree that where there has already been land restitution in a district, the results must be incorporated into the land redistribution target set for each DLC.

The DLCs have been given a target of redistributing two million hectares of farmland by 2019. It will be interesting to see if it is achieved, since the budget for this target will not necessarily be sufficient. It is going to be critical that organised agriculture representatives play a significant role in the implementation of the DLCs. For a number of reasons the DRDLR is proposing various interventions that will not be realised without sound agricultural, economic and practical advice.

Transparency
In his 2015 State Of The Nation address, President Jacob Zuma referred to the Agricultural Land Holdings Policy Framework. This is where government talks about introducing upper and lower limits to agricultural land holding sizes, de-incentivising land hoarding and speculation and promoting the productive and sustainable use of land, among other issues. This is the only information that we have regarding what the president was referring to in his address. We hope for more information from government soon.

In June 2014 the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act was implemented. In KwaZulu-Natal alone there have already been thousands of new land restitution claims lodged since this lodgement window was reopened last year. This excludes the 1 296 land restitution claims that remain to be processed in the province from the previous lodgement window.

Since that time, Kwanalu has said to minister Nkwinti and the DRDLR that alternative models need to be found that will achieve land restitution in a far more sustainable way than previously. We feel that there needs to be a policy directive issued by minister Nkwinti requiring landowners and land restitution claimants to meet, discuss and ultimately understand this situation.

Kwanalu must be given access to registers of land restitution claims so that our members at district level have a clear picture of what the extent and progress with land restitution claims is.  Kwanalu also has concerns regarding the classification and prioritisation of land restitution claims. Some of our members have been involved with unresolved restitution claims on their land for as long as 17 years.

Now, in many cases we find that there are new land restitution claims being lodged on the same land, but by different claimants. There are also claims being lodged on land that has already been awarded to land restitution claimants. Kwanalu wants to know how this situation is going to be balanced – it will pose a significant challenge to the DRDLR. Kwanalu has always offered to be part of the process and we want to know how we can play a role in achieving desirable outcomes for land restitution.

We believe that farmer-owned land that has been voluntarily entered into land reform programmes should be made ‘unrestitutionable’. This means, for example, that if beneficiaries have been given shares in the farming business, or if alternative land has been acquired for the beneficiaries, the farmer’s land should no longer be considered available for restoration.

Instead, alternative land or financial compensation for the claimants should be pursued. Further claims would only undermine the mutually acceptable agreements between the farmer and the initial land reform beneficiaries.

While the Extension of Security of Tenure Amendment Bill (ESTA) 2013 has been on the table for some time already, more recently the DRDLR appointed a group to conduct a regulatory impact assessment in terms of ESTA and the proposed amendments to it. Kwanalu has participated in discussions and debates about these proposed amendments. As soon as we obtain more information on the outcomes, we will be able to move forward as necessary.

Workable alternatives
The 50/50 farm business ownership proposal emerged from what minister Nkwinti initially called “strengthening the relative rights of people working the land”. This was placed on the table in August 2013. In the policy documents that minister Nkwinti presented to Agri SA back then, government was already starting to talk about limiting farms sizes and strengthening the rights of farm workers, labour tenants and farm dwellers.

The minister also presented to us his ‘Minister’s Wheel’, which proposed a 50% farm business ownership by the existing owner and the remaining 50% to be divided up among farm workers, who would get a share of this – depending on how long they had worked on the farm.

Minister Nkwinti wants farmers to share half of their farming business, but appears to expect the farmers to remain responsible for 100% of the farm’s debt. Kwanalu will continue to lobby that this policy, in its current form, is unworkable.  The farming community must demonstrate existing workable alternatives to government, or come up with workable alternatives.

There are already many good initiatives involving commercial farmers and their farm workers, labour tenants and farm dwellers. Minister Nkwinti must be made aware of these so that the route of the 50/50 proposal and others need not be followed. The existing workable solutions can be refined to make them work even better than they currently are.

Social responsibility
Kwanalu believes a holistic approach is needed for dealing with the contents of the proposed policies and legislation regarding land reform. We understand that the farming community, because it lives in rural areas, does have a social responsibility in these areas.

The farming community needs to be committed to the likes of tenure security and to on- and off-farm settlement. We must come up with new ideas for land reform, or take existing ideas and determine how to utilise them. Kwanalu has been participating at all levels to show that it understands that commercial agriculture has a social responsibility and that it wants to be allowed to draw up a social accord or social charter to this effect.

We know that with a number of other commodity groups, such as the sugar, fruit and forestry industries, there are already minimum standards. Our question is: are there minimum standards that we, as a farmers’ union, can present to government to show that we subscribe to and will do our best to uphold? We are going to have to look at this and be more progressive about it.

Phone Sandy la Marque on 033 342 9393 or email [email protected]. This article is based on a presentation that was given at Kwanalu’s ‘The Road to Meaningful and Sustainable Land Reform’ workshop held in Pietermaritzburg on 17 March.

What are your thoughts about land reform? Leave your comments below.