Structural and institutional support for land reform

Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s overnight announcement on Tuesday that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will amend the Constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation took many by surprise. Immediate reactions have been mixed, with some suggesting that the decision is a clear indication that the EFF, and not the ruling party are guiding national policy, with others commending the decision as evidence that the ANC has truly listened to what the people want through the recent public hearings conducted by the Constitutional Review Committee.

For those questioning the ANC’s commitment to effecting Constitutional reform to accelerate land redistribution, the announcement will either serve to confirm its  seriousness to deliver on the promise made at their elective conference last year, or will be  another piece in what some deem to be a necessary electioneering tactic. Agree or disagree, there is now no ambiguity,   the Constitution will definitely be amended.  Furthermore, we can likely expect the ANC to be backed by the EFF and other smaller opposition parties to make the two-thirds majority threshold required to effect this change. 

Undoubtedly, this announcement brings the necessity for the recently established Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Land Reform, to be led by Deputy President David Mabuza, sharply into focus. This committee has to hit the ground running.  A panel of experts, expected to be made up of specialists and practitioners from across the agricultural spectrum, will support the Committee in its work. With this decision, their mandate will be somewhat clearer, although the conditions under which expropriation without compensation are to occur are not yet defined. What is still uncertain is where the money to fund the comprehensive land reform programme the President spoke about will come from.

One of the immediate task facing the IMC on Land Reform will be to establish a detailed plan around the required sources of funding, a question that all key players in the agricultural sector will now also be confronted with. As an executive structure of government, the IMC exists to promote the interest of government on the burning issue of land reform. It will have the required political oversight enabling it to make serious choices and perhaps unpalatable decisions. Some pundits argue that money is not a problem in South Africa – the main problem is how it is spent. If we follow this logic, the need for a reorientation and reconfiguration of the South African national budget is necessary, something that the IMC may well have to consider.

Within the reality of competing demands for resources across government departments, prioritising a holistic funding solution for the land reform programme should be one of the top agenda items government should be considering. During the 2017/18 financial year, R6.8 billion was allocated to agriculture, with only marginal growth planned to 2020/21, taking the budget to R7.8 billion.

Surely this will have to be reviewed if the land and agricultural reform programme is to be successful. Critical choices are going to have to be made to drive land and agricultural reform in South Africa, especially in light of the support new entrants wanting to participate in the sector will require. It remains to be seen whether the Minister of Finance, will make any critical decisions when he delivers the Mid-Term Budget speech in September. Given the rapid developments, it would make sense to see budget allocations to agriculture increase significantly in the near future. 

A reconfigured national budget focussed on accelerating land reform will also have to set budget aside for the purchase of agricultural machinery, fertilisers and irrigation equipment. People must be encouraged to work the land and contribute significantly to the country’s food security. It needs to also think about how these new entrants will obtain the necessary technical support to ensure that they can compete in the market and how they will access it. It needs to begin to address the questions around what the opportunities for the different categories of contributors are or will be across the agricultural value chain. This is the shift in the budget that must be driven and influenced by the panel of experts that will serve as a think tank to the IMC.

The role to be played by those guiding the IMC in their processes cannot be understated. The policy proposals that this panel will make to the IMC must help change the attitude and mind-sets of South Africans towards the land to ensure that no piece of land lies fallow, starting in communal areas where levels of poverty are extremely high. Additionally, this panel of experts should:

–          Work to bridge the information gap – there is as much information about the sector that exists as there is that still needs to be generated or coordinated. For example, there is much work to be done to further existing knowledge of the role subsistence and small-scale farmers play in accessing informal markets as well as their social and economic contribution in rural communities across the country.

–          Follow an evidence-based approach – As the Constitutional review process comes to a head, the input and information gathered will be top of mind. However, some of the current recommendations from reports such as the Kgalema Motlanthe High Level Panel (which the media incorrectly reduced to being just about the Ingonyama Trust Act of 2002) should be revisited. In short, the panel should not overlook existing guidance and recommendations, especially where there are valuable insights to be found.

–          Critically review opportunities to integrate agricultural financing in support of transformation – the fragmented nature of current systems of agricultural financing to support transformation has to be addressed. A review of how the strategies, processes, systems and operations come together across the agricultural spectrum to support transformation in the sector is long overdue. The structure of public institutions such as the Land Bank, who are mandated to facilitate transformation but without any financial flows from government, should be revisited. The infrastructure exists, the strategy and coordination should now follow. Perhaps a central point for agricultural funding is now a necessity.

–          Deliver a practical implementation plan to support black farmers – This Committee will have to answer the grassroots questions black farmers will have around technical support and market access. Additionally, Government will have to give traditional leaders all the support that they will need to help rural communities utilise agricultural land effectively.

The clarity of direction around a Constitutional amendment to give effect to the expropriation of land without compensation brings to the fore pre-existing questions including ‘under what conditions?’ and ‘how?’ In the midst of an often divisive environment in which individual parties easily take sides, the structures set up to mediate, counsel and guide us through this process, as envisaged by the role of the IMC, must not lose sight of the goal. That is, through effective and accelerated land reform, the opportunity to resolve the poverty, inequality and access gaps that currently exist for a majority of South Africans.

Zamikhaya Maseti is a Senior Specialist Public and Sector Policy at Land Bank and writes in his personal capacity.