Land reform has ‘moved backwards’ says expert

Plaas's Professor Ruth Hall was the keynote speaker at the public lecture on land at UWC.

University of the Western Cape land expert Professor Ruth Hall didn’t mince her words over who she thinks is to blame for the crisis the country is facing over land redistribution.

Professor Hall, of the university’s Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), pointed the finger at the ANC government, saying it had a dismal track record over the past two decade on land reform.

Land reform had instead moved backward with mostly big companies benefiting from land ownership, she said.

She was speaking at the Bellville campus during a public lecture on the current land debate in South Africa on Thursday August 2.

The lecture followed an announcement by president Cyril Ramaphosa last week that the ANC would amend the constitution to allow the state to expropriate land without compensation.

Professor Hall said that would do little to change the status quo.

“The pace of land redistribution has declined from about half a million hectares per year at its zenith in 2007/2008 to one-tenth of that in 2015/2016,” she said.

“This has nothing to do with the constitution; it has been a political choice to dismantle land reform over the past 10 years.

“Also, the national budget for land has never exceeded 1% and currently land reform accounts for just 0.4% of it.”

Other speakers at the lecture also questioned President Ramaphosa’s sudden announcement, claiming it undermined a parliamentary review committee’s public hearings, which concluded on Saturday August 4.

“Many are wondering since Tuesday if the ANC government knows what it’s doing because of the parliamentary constitutional review committee is currently in hearings into the land issue,” said Moenieba Isaacs, the acting director of Plaas.

Professor Hall added that land reform had been skewed against women.

“Even though in South Africa we tend to look at race, I am going to challenge you to think about class and gender because remember that only 23% of beneficiaries of land reform are women.”

Things got heated when the floor was opened for questions, with some students disagreeing with Professor Hall.

“The announcement made by the president is welcomed,” said Mihlali Mtoto, a student in the political science department.

“It’sthemost promising development to happen since this debate started because land in this country has been benefiting colonialists and apartheid beneficiaries for decades, and they didn’t pay for it, why must we?”

Khaya Kuhle, a Pan African Student Movement of Azania member, said land reform should prioritise black people.

“Land, where means of production happens, in all sectors, must be returned to black people. Because when the white men came and took it away, we lost part of our spiritual identity as Africans. So there must be a process to return that but also educate us on how to work the land.”

Local entrepreneur and owner of Ses’fikile Wines, Nondumiso Pikashe, said she had struggled to get her business off the ground without owning her own farm.

“I partnered with a white wine farmer because acquiring my own farm is so expensive. As a black woman, I needed to be creative if my business was going to succeed. We need to be educated about land ownership, and it needs to be affordable because right now it’s not.”

Professor Hall responded by posing seven questions, the country should look at, in addressing the land issue:

* Land reform for whom?

* Land for what?

* Which land should be targeted and where?

* How are decisions to be made?

* How to get the land?

* Whether or not to compensate?

* With what tenure?

Professor Hall advised South Africans not to only look to government to solve the land question.

“Should we as South Africans think that change will come from above? It will likely come from below, from society rather than the state.

“The law is an enabler, but, by itself, won’t produce transformed land relations. It is up to us, as academia, civil society, and social movements, to do this,” she said.