Property & Wealth

Land redistribution debate remains disjointed/ill-focused

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The national debate about land reform seems to have developed an obsession with agricultural land to the exclusion of the largest slice of the real-estate sector.

Using the Draft Land Reform Bill, which is still open for public comment until 17

April before formal introduction to parliament, has been used as platform by President Jacob Zuma during his February State of the Nation Address (SONA) when punting the point that racial reconciliation would be “difficult, if not impossible” to accomplished until land ownership in South Africa has been resolved.

In the same debate, Mr Zuma also claimed that only 10%, or eight million hectares, of the of arable land in the country have been transferred to black people.

During the same debate the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, said South Africa must start expropriating land without compensation and return it to the country’s Black majority if it is to speed up socio-economic reform.

Then, last week at a media briefing on the land reform bill he said about “expropriation without compensation” that it reflected (only) “aspirational ideas”, for the purposes of debate and would not form the basis of the new bill.

However, the bill itself makes it clear that the focus is only on agricultural land with its key purpose “to establish a new land commission to address current transformation targets and redress the socio-economic injustices of the past” with reference only made to agricultural land.

Notable exclusions

Besides the fact that by the very definitions and descriptions use in the wording of the bill, in its publication in the Government Gazette, the final paragraph reads:

“The State Law Advisers are of the opinion that it is not necessary to refer this Bill to the National House of Traditional Leaders in terms of section 18(1)(a) of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003 (Act No. 41 of 2003), since it does not contain provisions pertaining to customary law or customs of traditional communities.” (Our emphasis.)

The implication of this is, that even though about a third of the country’s population live on so-called ‘traditional land,’ they are excluded from the whole land reform process. A process without which, according to minister Nkwinti himself, economic empowerment is undermined.

An integral part of governments land reform plans is also a pre-colonial audit of land ownership, use and occupation patterns. There are, however, no indication that the process will include the land conquering tribal war-phase of the county’s history.

New approach

If the country is to enter a new phase of truly inclusive economic transformation and growth, a new approach from political leaders of all persuasions is called for.

First of all, it must be accepted that the country’s economy is not an accident of time, but rather the product of the centuries that went before. And right now, it is still well capable of contributing to the well-being of all its approximately 50 million plus citizens and visitors, if we get our act together.

Secondly, we should recognise that the land, whatever it is used for, is the country's primary store of wealth as it provides most of it's citizens with a measure of their capital-value.

As a capturer of capital value and, thus security, it offers its owner/s also a door for entry into other sectors of the economic activity.

Right now, the real estate industry in South Africa is still stable and profitable, providing much needed growth in the value of this asset-class for citizens, investors, residents and visitors.

It also, via the sub-sector of construction, is a massive employer of in particular, low- and semi-skilled people – a level of the employment crucial to avoiding poverty.

 There can be no argument that we need to urgently change the ways we plan, think and strategize regarding land and its distribution. It is unavoidable and essential if we are to grow as a country and meet the many crises that confront us on the local, regional and global level.  

It makes no sense to exclude millions of South Africans due to the accident to where they were born. Everybody should have an equal right, and -opportunity to acquire his or her patch of the land to their ability.

If we are to avoid the trap Zimbabwe fell into with populist short cuts, the time has come for much wider, more holistic thinking, -planning and -empowerment programmes than what is presently evident.

Something positive

Amid all the negative news on the economic front, there was at least on bit of positive news on the real-estate, contributing handsomely to at least one of its subsectors – the first-time home-owners.

In the latest national budget the threshold for paying Transfer Duty was lifted from R750 000 to R900 000. This small step will assist many more first time buyers to make the big step in acquiring their own homes.

What is needed at this point in time, is a stable economy and pro-active programmes to offer more workers the opportunity to determine their own future and not rely on the government to provide the ever-growing needs for housing and shelter.

by Eve van Basten

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