South Africa: Land and Poverty
Published on April 7, 2018
God's Window, Ehlanzeni District Municipality (courtesy: http://5-five-5.blogspot.com)
Solutions for the Benefit of South Africans, not their Politicians
Two and a half decades after the end of #Apartheid and South Africa’s first universal democratic elections, millions of South Africans (mostly Black) live in poverty, many surviving solely on public assistance in the form of grants. The argument which some advance is that the current situation is the result of several factors, chiefly:
- “White monopoly capital”
- “White” farmland tenure, "Black" dispossession
- Racism; individual and institutional
- Collusion between the ruling ANC and corporate interests
Poverty in South Africa has many causes, not the least of which is the enduring legacy of dispossession and inequity stemming from racist politics of the Apartheid era. However, the popular narrative advanced by Julius #Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (#EFF) and by many in the ruling African National Congress (#ANC) is inaccurate, dishonest and misleading. Rather than devote time to debunk those arguments (which warrants a paper of its own), I’ll offer a few suggestion that would reduce poverty and improve the standard of living for all South Africans:
1) Establish a National Sovereign Wealth Fund
No longer give equity stakes obtained from corporations to politically connected individuals, but rather put them in trust. The past pattern of enriching friends has simply created a small coterie of wealthy "Blacks," and done nothing to lift the masses. Payments from dividends and capital gains should be distributed periodically to all South Africans based on income. Those payments should be phased out when family income exceeds the poverty line. This will ensure the benefits go to poor South Africans, not the politically connected. It also will foster an ownership society; one where ordinary South Africans can see and accrue the benefits of a capitalist economy.
2) Reform, Resource and Redeploy the South African Police Service (SAPS)
Security is paramount to development and poverty eradication. South Africans are not safe in their homes, their workplaces or public spaces. Focus on community policing, building trust with communities. The police should be respected, trusted agents of public order but order that is beneficial to the citizenry, not exclusively to the benefit of the state. Improve forensic capabilities, increase the number of patrolmen and detectives to meet existing needs. Finally, re-focus resources on rural areas. The lawlessness and brutality of farm murders is shocking and erodes trust and confidence in government.
3) Reform Public Education
Public education must be a priority. In large measure, it has not been. Phantom text books in the Eastern Cape, diverted resources spread too thinly, obsessive fixation on elimination of Afrikaans medium schools (and conversion to English), dumping of qualified teachers because of racial quotas, horrific abuses of male teachers who have sex with minor children, dumbing down of curricula, pretending to succeed when schools have failed (lowing matriculation standards to boost graduation rates) and countless other failures have weakened South Africa and held back all South Africans, none more so than poor Blacks.
South African school students (source: thesouthafrican.com)
4) Eliminate Corruption and Corrupt Practices in Government
Corruption seems to be ever present in human societies. There will always be those who profit at the unfair expense of others. However, under the #Zuma administration corruption became pervasive, entrenched, outlandish and on a massive scale. Zuma era corruption even exceeds the patronage Apartheid state. Shocking is too tame a word to describe the state of corruption in South Africa. Every time a fictitious Black Economic Empowerment (#BEE) company fails to put textbooks in schools, every time the Guptas engage in state capture, South Africans suffer.
The new #Ramaphosa government has a narrow window to go after corrupt officials before the 2019 election. However, Ramphosa’s tenuous hold over the party is likely to constrain his freedom of movement, as far too many voting ANC delegates that could get him tossed are fine with and participate in official graft and corruption. Unfortunately, corruption is not a victimless crime.
Former president Jacob Zuma & Atul Gupta at Bidvest Wanderers Stadium (Source:
5) Implement Genuine Land Reform: Not Window Dressing
Land is a sensitive issue in South Africa. Land #tenure is essential to a country’s well-being. Clear title to land is invaluable. With clear title, landowners have equity which they can pledge to borrow money. Banks can accept risk if one owns land to pledge as collateral. Centuries of conflict, settlement, colonization and conquest ended in the formation of South Africa as a country from an amalgamation of British colonies, African kingdoms and independent Boer republics a little over a century ago (1910). The introduction of race-based legislation, meant to impoverish non-whites, succeeded and dramatically skewed land tenure from 1913 onward. Restoration of land to the dispossessed was also a key consideration of negotiations in the early 1990s to end Apartheid. However, the negotiated settlement to end Apartheid was contingent on inclusion of constitutional protections for landowners and a mechanism to redress land claims arising from the 1910-1994 time frame.
That solution is under attack today. Proponents claim Black South Africans are poor because they own no land. That is dishonest. Most human beings own no land, few South Africans of any race own farmland (181,532 South Africans (.0034% of the population) own a total of 419,005 farms). One need not own land to avoid or escape poverty. The key is good #governance and #education. The ANC has failed on education and must seriously address its failures in this area. Apartheid governance ensured that most “Whites” got quality education, most "Blacks" did not. Twenty-four years later it appears few “White” or “Black” South Africans in public schools are getting a quality education. Additionally, there are painfully few success stories in transfer of land from “White” owners to “Black” owners. This is also an ANC failure.
Source: Land Audit Report (November 2017, Version 2), Phase II: Private Land Ownership by Race, Gender and Nationality
Addressing Land for the benefit of all South Africans, Vice Race Based Vengeance
The land debate in South Africa should raise several pertinent questions regarding redress of land grievances. Chief among them:
Who has lost land since 1910?
o This is the date South Africa became a nation-state following the Union of South Africa Act. Prior to this date the land of modern South Africa was part of British colonial possessions, independent Boer republics, Black African kingdoms or ungoverned indigenous space.
o Any land issue prior to the formation of South Africa should reasonably be considered long since settled as a consequence of conquest and settlement like these events:
§ European colonization and assimilation of the Khoi and San (Coloureds)
§ Boer – Xhosa wars in the Eastern Cape
§ Zulu Mfecane (Kwazulu and beyond)
§ Boer – Bantu wars (Pedi, Ndebele, Sotho, Tswana, and others)
§ Anglo-Boer War (ended the independence of the Boers)
o Conquest and assimilation, sadly, are the story of human migration and history. This is far from unique to Southern Africa and is not a “White” or “Black” phenomenon. It is human.
Cape Town historic District Six, a largely "Coloured" neighborhood until 1966 when the Apartheid government began evicting 60,000 residents for the then designated "Whites only" area. (source: saha.org.za)
Who wants land?
o The rabid and emotional narrative in current discourse is caustic and racial. Neither is helpful to the disposed, the innocent or South Africa’s reputation.
o It is unlikely that 43 million “Black” residents of South Africa want to own land or have any use for land.
o The discussion of “Black” land is disingenuous. There are at least five million non-South African “Blacks” living in the country. They have no legitimate claim to the land. It also is racist and treats people based on the color of their skin, ignoring the reality that everyone is of African origin.
What do people want the land for? What is its intended purpose?
o This is an important consideration. Productive farm land should not be confiscated simply to hand land over to people who have no intent or ability to use it effectively. Even ANC comments on the constitutional amendment specifically state that the government will not harm agricultural production. One need only look north to the shameful destruction of productive farms and parceling out of land in Zimbabwe that, in tiny parcels, is unusable.
Where would claimants like to own land?
o This is actually a very good question. It matters because priority should be for those disposed under racist laws and through the course of Apartheid. Do claimants want to return to their origins or are they willing to accept recompense elsewhere?
o Land given to or sold to “Blacks” and then re-sold to “Whites” cannot be considered in “White” hands or the land issue will always be misrepresented. "Blacks" who sell the land "returned" to them are entitled to do so. But the dishonest inclusion of such acreage in the land totals with no mention of the acreage previously returned to "Blacks" is unhelpful. Such action permits an endless abuse of the issue for political gain.
Commercial agricultural land in South Africa (source: africanexponent.com)
What plans are there for agricultural support, extension services, and vocational-technical skills training?
o This must be one of the most serious failures of land reform in South Africa. The ANC has bought a lot of land and done little with it (aside from rewarding the Guptas, apparently).
o Owning land means little if you lack skills, experience, machinery, know how, capital and such. What is government’s plan to address these issues? How does the agricultural industry contribute to this effort? You don’t just buy a plot, cut it into rectangles and then hand out deeds to people based on their skin color.
Is there a partnership plan for fixing this issue together (land owners, farmers, government (provincial and national)?
o Farmers’ unions, provincial and national government must work together to assist nascent farmers in getting established. Some commercial farmers may not like this. Who wants to arm a potential competitor? But, one has to be reasonable here. Do we proceed on a principal of fairness or leave folks to their own devices and assure mostly failure?
Prudent Steps to a Fair Redress of Land in South Africa:
Complete an honest national public review and debate of ALL land (state, traditional trusts, private) tenure which includes identification of all land taken from owners or occupants from 1910 to 1994 and settlements since 1994
The government publishes reliable information on the land issue. However, few discuss the issues in full context, relying on emotion to persuade and attract followers.
Identify who lost land, when, how much. This review would also include detailed background on land legislation in this era. More than 17 million poor “Blacks” could gain title to land tomorrow if the ANC issued title to the land and public housing they occupy rather than keep them dependent on the state. Additionally, South Africa’s seven royal families hold tenure over millions of hectares of land in communal trust. Any land restitution should include this land. Few Zulu have legitimate claims to land owned by commercial farmers, many have legitimate claims to land controlled by the King through the Ingonyama Trust (2.8 million hectares in Kwazulu-Natal). The government also has land holdings that should be considered in the redress of land. The November 2017 National Land Audit has all the relevant information with which to hold public discussion of current land tenure in South Africa.
Use existing legal mechanisms to acquire, distribute and monitor land
This would include filling the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform properly with staff and resources, working with political parties, civic groups, farm unions, landowners and traditional leaders to ensure parties are cognizant of land acquisitions, distributions and settlements. Additional measures include allocating resources to extend capital grants or loans, services and assistance to new farmers.
There should be a renunciation of all land clams prior to 1910
There is precedent for it. In 1970, the Germans renounced claims on lands east of the Oder. Claims to land lost in 1687 do little to improve anything today. The period from 1910 to 1994 is a period in history when a racist legal system was used to dispossess people based on race. This was not unique in human history. What is unique is the ruling class did not lose a war, were not conquered and never surrendered political control. Instead, accepting the immorality of their system, those political elites negotiated a peaceful end and all parties to CODESA (the Convention for a Democratic South Africa) agreed to and accepted a multi-racial democratic state based on market capitalism and sought racial reconciliation. Land claims prior to this time are historical and a betrayal of what was accomplished at the end of the last millennium.
Remove racial injections into the arguments
o "Whites" are not the only people who took land via conquest or displacement:
o Zulu displaced, eliminated or absorbed many tribes and spread their power base throughout Kwa-Zulu and further
o Bantus displaced the Khoi and San
o Large segments of land prior to 1910 where "Whites" settled were open and unoccupied (parts of the Western Cape, land towards the Great Fish river, much of the Free State and north of the Vaal river owing to the Mfecane)
o Race is a legitimate topic post 1913 Native Lands Act and later Apartheid policies (post 1948) and should part of the public debate
o Apartheid was race based and denigrated and dispossessed millions of non-white South Africans; this is fact and cannot be ignored, however, attacking people today for actions taken by others is unreasonable
Withdraw the constitutional amendment to expropriate without compensation immediately:
o It violates the current constitution
o Violates the spirit of reconciliation that made a negotiated settlement even possible in the first place: it is a betrayal
o It violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
o Its application will be arbitrary and is an unfair mechanism to redress wrongs
§ This law would allow the government to confiscate property purchased at any time.
§ No government can be trusted to work exclusively in the interests of its citizens. The ANC’s acceptance of massive corruption in its midst and on its watch is evidence of this. Further evidence of this is the 24-year failure to use existing mechanisms to adequately redress wrongs on the land issue.
§ Today it will be commercial farmers. Tomorrow it will be homeowners who criticize the government of the day. This is a DANGEROUS tool that WILL be used to harm South Africans, regardless their race or origin. Politicians can and will use the law to silence critics, weaken foes and abuse average citizens.
Where to From Here?
Land tenure, race and wealth disparity remain touchstone issues in South Africa. Most non-white South Africans expected much change after Apartheid ended. They were right to have such expectations. The ANC, especially prior to Zuma, achieved much. The transition from minority government was largely smooth. Millions of South Africans now have formal housing, access to treated clean piped water, flush toilets, electricity, public education and a sense of dignity borne of freedom of movement, assembly and speech engendered in South Africa's liberal constitution. South Africa even has a mechanism to seek redress if someone calls you names. In many ways, life is far better under the ANC-led government for most South Africans than it was in 1990. However......
Unchecked population growth, government tone deafness on #HIV/AIDS, rural security, virtually nonexistent prosecution, violent crime, pervasive corruption at all levels, chronic unemployment, conflicting foreign policy, arrogance, abysmal public education, injection of race into all spheres of life to demonize minorities, selective application of law, abject failure on land reform, dishonest narratives on land and wealth, state capture, and an "its our turn to eat" mentality have been corrosive and undermined progress for all.
President Cyril Ramphosa has an opportunity, albeit with little genuine maneuver space, to right the ship before the 2019 election. The EEF's populist messages of nationalization of mines and land expropriation has attracted too many voters for the ANC's comfort. Meanwhile, in the face of difficult odds, the Democratic Alliance (#DA) has shed its image of a "White" party and attracted growing numbers of non-white voters as well as proven capable of ruling at the provincial level (Western Cape) and South Africa's cities (Cape Town, NMB, Johannesburg and Pretoria). The duel EFF, DA electoral threat likely played a prominent role in the election of Ramaphosa as ANC president in December 2017 (which equates to a repudiation of the Zuma crowd). The ANC's sudden turnaround in support of land expropriation in early 2018 -- a measure they voted overwhelmingly against in 2017 -- is probably an effort to steal the populist vote from the EFF. But this is a dangerous game.
Time and again, governments empowered with more raw political power eventually use or misuse that power. There is little reason to think the ANC will be any different. Reject this constitutional amendment before is too late and then use the perfectly effective tools already at your disposal to effect appropriate, fair, efficient land reforms. Skin color should not be a determinant of who may own land. It was wrong under Apartheid, it is wrong today.