by Clare van Zwieten, EE Publishers
Land reform in South Africa is a complex matter and efforts to ensure sustainable land distribution and authenticated land restitution need to be supported. More funding, increased resources and efficient management of the land reform process will go a long way towards speeding up the land claims and redistribution processes as well as preventing corruption and maladministration. However, what is really needed is a fundamental overhaul of government land reform policy.
The policy needs to be imbued with a fuller, more comprehensive understanding of the historical processes of pre-colonial and colonial black South African societies which belie the notion of unified black peasant communities longing for a return to a pastoral way of life. In addition, policy makers need to understand that society is not static, and that trends such as increased urbanisation need to be taken into account.
Over the last 100 years the world has undergone a radical transformation. Economies have industrialised, and technological developments have created new employment opportunities while simultaneously rendering others obsolete. South Africa’s poor, both rural and urban, have not been isolated from these developments, and would like to participate in the capitalist economy and have the opportunity to reap some of its benefits.
In an attempt to deal with the failures or unintended consequences of land reform, government has shifted and reworked land reform policy over the years in an effort to deal with matters of land restitution and distribution. Sometimes these policy shifts have worked but more often than not, they haven’t. Instead they have had unintended consequences or have resulted in land programmes becoming bogged down by laborious and inefficient systems.
Persistent efforts in recent years to bestow increasing powers on traditional leaders, does not augur well for attempts to get the land reform programme refocused on poor, black South Africans. These efforts provide opportunities for corrupt chiefs to develop patronage networks around communal tenure systems that will work to their own benefit, instead of the rural poor. The declaration of the Communal Land Rights Act of 2004 as unconstitutional in 2010 and provincial resistance in 2008 and 2011 to the Traditional Courts Bill, which subsequently lapsed in 2014, have helped to hamper these efforts, but for how long.
The reworked Traditional Courts Bill is due to be tabled in parliament in 2017, and there is still a need to be cautious about a policy programme which seeks to entrench traditional leaders’ authority over the rural population and communal land. Opportunists are on the prowl aiming to enrich themselves via authority over communal land restitution claims and control over mineral rights. Politicians too are seeking to entrench mechanisms that will protect traditional electoral bases. It is vital that decisions are ultimately made that will enable growth and development for the benefit of the majority.
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