Land debate: “A necessity yet a ticking time bomb!”

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From the 23 – 25 January 2019, The University of Fort Hare facilitated the Eastern Cape Land Dialogue, which was hosted in collaboration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, Department of Public Works and the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. This Provincial Land Dialogue was held at the East London International Convention Centre, brought together numerous stakeholders on land issues in the Province. The purpose of the Dialogue was to have a Province-focused reflection on land and land reform in a manner that leads to further useful work. The Dialogue focused on three key objectives, namely – acknowledging the past; creating a vision for land reform in the Eastern Cape; and defining the scope of work towards accelerating and improving land reform in the province.

 

In his opening remarks, the MEC of the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) Mr Xolile Nqatha, who declared the dialogue open on behalf of the Premier, cautioned that it is better to dialogue for solutions now than lateras the debate on land is a potential crisis if ignored. He affirmed the importance of land and the need to participate as the government is putting in place a policy trajectory in anticipation of legislation.

 

According to the MEC, land expropriation and redistribution should not be an end in itself. It is important to determine who gets the land as well as for what purpose. He  questioned why all land could not be transferred to the state on behalf of all, just as mineral resources are transferred to be managed by the state. He, however, quickly denoted that even that would have its problems, as it might be mainly to the benefit of the elite class. The MEC noted the peculiar circumstances of the Eastern Cape Province, which is becoming legendary for Increase in poverty, unemployment and decline in job creation, which make the land question critical as the people of the province are mainly agrarians whose livelihoods depend on land. In the view of the MEC, for land reform to be successful, there has to be careful and detailed planning with clear goals and artistic impressions so that people can visualise where their province should be in the future and work towards it.

 

The Moderator of the Plenary, and Vice Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, Prof Buhlungu, stressed the need for urgency in keeping pace with the dynamics of the land question otherwise previous and subsequent dialogues might prove to be meaningless.

 

The discussants Prof Somadoda Fikeni, Mr Mike Coleman and Nkosi Nonkonyana, discussed amongst other subjects, what the future looks like for South Africa and said the socio-economic transformation over the years has failed to deal with apartheid.” Mike Coleman provided a historical perspective on the land tenure system and canvassed for a repeal of colonial proclamations, the decentralisation of land management authority and a more explicit role for traditional leaders.

 

Chief Nonkonyana, a representative of traditional institutions, decried the silencing of the voice of traditional leadership despite the prominent role played by traditional leaders in fighting the land wars. He asked for the recognition of traditional leaders’ role in community consultations and ensuring compliance with procedures.

 

In his conclusion of dialogue proceedings, he gave assurances on the question of the way forward after the Dialogue. He recalled the purpose, as captured in the Dialogue Concept. “The purpose of the Dialogue itself is therefore to have a Province-focused reflection on land and land reform in a manner that leads to further useful work. The Dialogue has three key objectives, namely – acknowledging the past; creating a vision for land reform in the Eastern Cape; and defining the scope of work towards accelerating and improving land reform in the province,” he explained.

 

The Eastern Cape Land Dialogue debate became a lead to the Cape Town conference held at Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town with the aim of influencing discussion from an Eastern Cape perspective and to influence a national perspective to resolving the land question. The theme of the national conference was,” Land Redistribution for equitable access to land in South Africa” This national conference was hosted jointly by the University of the Western Cape, Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare.

A national land reform programme launched in 1994 had aims of contributing to restorative justice, economic upliftment, and poverty reduction. To date, the aims have not been entirely fulfilled. Both nationally and in the Eastern Cape. Even while there is an urgent call to accelerate land reform in the Eastern Cape, there is an equally an urgent need to think very carefully about what we are seeking to achieve and how we are seeking to achieve it.

The aim of the conference was to consider a range of different perspectives on how to improve redistribution, and as such, Professor presented three commissioned papers. Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare; Mr. Mazibuko Jara of Ntaba ka Ndoda and Prof Nick Vink and Johann Kirsten of the University of Stellenbosch as a basis for further discussion.

Points of disagreement were significant, for example regarding the role of the state versus the private sector and the market regarding who the priority should be to benefit from redistribution. A wide range of people attended the conference from academia, civil society, the private sector, and government, including a number of members of parliament. The conference organisers are considering setting up a working committee to refine the proposals coming out of the conference, to encourage pilot initiatives in different parts of the country along the lines of some of these proposals, and to sustain the engagement with policy-makers.