Pace of Land Reform: hearings

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Meeting report

AGRICULTURE AND LAND AFFAIRS PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 October 2004
PACE OF LAND REFORM: HEARINGS

Chairperson:

Mr N Masithela (ANC)

Documents handed out:

SA Council of Churches submission
Constantia Land Claimants Beneficiaries submission
Women's Legal Centre submission
Southern Cape Land Committee submission
Women on Farms Project submission
Centre for Rural Legal Studies (CRLS) submission
National Land Committee submission
Department's Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) submission

SUMMARY
The Committee continued with its second of three days of public hearings on the pace of land reform in the country. Spokespersons from the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the Constantia Land Claimants Beneficiaries, the Women's Legal Centre, and the Southern Cape Land Committee submitted comments, made proposals and answered questions from the Committee.

During the afternoon session, the presenters variously complained about the slow pace of land reform, the inadequacy of the Department budget, the market based model for land redistribution; the narrow focus of Agricultural Black Economic Empowerment and the failure of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act, 1997 (ESTA) to protect farm workers and farm dwellers. The Department was urged to make more use of its expropriation powers. The presenters exclaimed that the Department had failed to respond to their requests for integrated land summits and forums to review land reform and ESTA. The Chairperson commented that the Minister had approved a special committee to address the issue of foreigners purchasing land and to find ways of reducing this influence. All three presentations reported gross human rights violations taking place on farms, ranging from abuse and murder to denied access to water.

MINUTES

SA Council of Churches submission
Reverend G Vika, Presiding Officer, said that the pace of land reform should be quickened but a broader vision was equally important. Market-oriented land reform did not address the issue of justice. Land was a gift from God that should be shared, taking cultural issues into account. Rural people used to live in harmony with the land and the tradition of looking after and sustaining land should be returned to. The SACC was concerned about the 'commodification' of land.

The SACC was also concerned that the budget allocated to land reform was too small and that the capacity of the Department of Land Affairs to consult and research was insufficient. This was a matter of grave concern as land reform was central to the issue of social justice. Land reform should also be integrated into broader development. It affects the rural poor and the process of acquiring security of tenure and title deeds is too slow, including for women.

The policy of "willing buyer and willing seller" took too long, the forms were unnecessarily difficult and not all potential beneficiaries were aware of the legal process and the cut-off date.

Discussion
A Member asked Reverend Vika to elaborate on what exactly should be accelerated, and how he saw the process unfolding.

Reverend Vika said he recognised that the pace of reform was beginning to accelerate but that broader consultation was necessary, also for "a methodology that ensures justice is done". The SACC was not saying that justice was not being done, but that not enough justice was being done. For people to buy their land back, they needed money and poor people did not have money.

A Member said that that was untrue as there were individuals who had not paid a cent for land restitution but had contributed their labour. Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme was pro-poor. A Member asked Reverend Vika to assist by pointing out exactly where the methodology used in consulting fell short. She asked for specific proposals and for a specific proposal regarding the budget.

Reverend Vika said that there were people who did not want to leave home and move 200 kilometres to farm; some people wanted security of tenure for their homes and the SACC was willing to help the Department with its consulting methodology. This was appropriate because in many cases the church was closer to the people. Regarding a specific budget proposal, he offered to make a detailed document, drawn up by the SACC, COSATU and others, available.

A Member asked how much Reverend Vika would allocate to land reform if he was the Minister of Finance and how much the church, as an owner of massive tracts of land, had donated. Another asked how the view of "land as a gift from God" could be helpful, given that traditional leaders could be viewed similarly.

Reverend Vika said that different churches had already begun their land reform process; his church (the Methodist Church) had conducted an audit of its land with a view to determining how much should be given away. He would make this report available to the Committee too. Regarding land as a gift from God, the Church was trying to persuade Members who were farmers to voluntarily give land to the poor. No land should be unused but the process had to be undertaken with awareness of broader issues such as skills development. He said that traditional leaders had a role to play but had been corrupted in South Africa's history. The Church condemned corruption in a Christian or any other person.

Constantia Land Claimants Beneficiaries submission
Mr G Van der Ross appealed to the Committee for its aid in working with the Commissioner for the Western Cape because the staff of that office appeared not to know or care about redress. He said that his Committee was the first to organise themselves and make a claim, back in 1995. Since then, they had achieved little because the Commissioner, either collectively or individually, was placing obstacles in the path of their claim. He said that when Mr W Mgoqi was the Commissioner, relations had been good. He cited numerous examples of misinformation and lost claims. In the meantime, some claimants had settled for cash payouts and some had died. He also said that decision-makers were never present at meetings and that staff did not read correspondence before meetings.

Discussion
The Chair said that the Regional and National Commissioners were at a Council for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration meeting. He said that in terms of the law, claimants could be offered their original land, other land or money but that it was clear that the claimants in question were being pushed to take money. He asked for a proposal from the Committee. A Member said that it was clear that there were problems in the regional office. He proposed finding out how many claims had been instituted in the region, and how many had been settled with cash and with land. The Chair said that the Minister's report had given that information the previous day. Mr Van der Ross said that no land had been restored and deed and archival searches, at his Committee's expense, had revealed unused state-owned land. The Chair said that the public interest super-ceded claimants' and proposed that the Committee wait until the next day when the Commissioners could be present.

Mr T Ramphele (ANC) proposed that the Committee continue to question the presenter. For instance, how many claims had been lost? Were there many cases of misinformation? Mr Van der Ross said that 26 claims had been lost, excluding those who had applied after 1998. Some of the losses had been resolved by drawing up affidavits supported by copies of correspondence but, he added, the Commissioner still did not issue receipts when accepting claims.

Women's Legal Centre submission
The spokeswoman said that the recent legislation drawn up by the Department formalised old order rights and made women more vulnerable. The Department was aware that the legislation was discriminatory and referred to it in its preamble to the Act. Women often did not have access to funds, information and literacy and this should have been addressed in the legislation by ensuring implementation of mechanisms for redress.

Discussion
A Member said that the "nuts and bolts" of implementation were provided in the regulations; if this was inappropriate, she asked for clear proposals. The spokesperson said that there should be a distinction between the regulations and the Act, because the legislature held this view. Rights had to be in the main Act because the regulations followed from them; if they conferred them, they could be ultra vires.

Southern Cape Land Committee submission
Mr P Sambo said that the pace of land reform was "dismally" slow because of the mismatch between land price and grants; growing emphasis on the market-based economy; the shift in local government from delivery to cost recovery, giving power to wealthy rate-payers and marginalising the poor; and privatisation of forests, railways and coastlines, which cut people off from natural resources and impoverished them.

The effect of this was that spatial apartheid remained unchanged; the divide between the rich and the poor grew; insecurity of tenure for and human rights abuses of farm dwellers continued; urbanisation continued; less and less land became available for land reform; and waiting lists for land grew.

Discussion
Responding to a specific question, Mr Sambo said that communities were frustrated with local municipalities because issues were raised with them at IDP forums but not addressed. For instance, land donated by the Department of Public Works had still not been used for housing many years later. Farm workers were still being evicted by farmers who intimidated them. He mentioned luxury golf developments and the wealthy residents who had free access to the sea while the locals had to pay for access to their traditional recreational and fishing resources.

Mr D Dlali (ANC) asked Mr Sambo to specify what should been addressed in his paragraph 2.4; what benchmarks should have been used? Mr Sambo said that the legislation aimed to address patterns of land ownership and provide redress but most claimants settled for cash. In 2001, R25 million had been allocated to Pacaltsdorp but nothing had been spent. Not one single piece of land had been returned in the Southern Cape. In Tuscany Village, a new development at Great Brak, 50% of the plots had been sold to foreign buyers.

Mr Ramphele asked for specific proposals regarding farm dwellers and access to recreational facilities for local communities. He also asked for more details regarding a local farmer who could not access a loan.

Mr Sambo did not make a specific proposal but said that his organisation welcomed the Commission of Inquiry into the sale of land and planning permission along the Southern Cape coast. He added that the development at Thesen's Island had cut locals off from fishing for recreation and to supplement their income. He explained that the farmer in question had been offered a large loan but had been reluctant to go into debt to farm.

After the lunch break, three presentations were delivered before the Committee. The National Land Committee requested the Department to immediately attend to the brutalisation and dehumanisation of persons living and working on farms. The Chairperson concluded that land reform should 'be taken to the masses,' that restitution claims needed to be finalised, and the Department budget must be upgraded.

Centre for Rural Legal Studies (CRLS) submission
Ms S Marco Thyse, Director, presented the CRLS submission on the pace of land reform. Afterwards, Mr G Solomons presented his case to the Committee. The CRLS document criticised Land Redistribution and Agricultural Development (LRAD) for its thin focus on 'developing a middle class layer of black commercial and semi-commercial farmers, with an increased role for white farmers.'

The slow pace of land reform was attributable to several factors, including the market based approach to land reform, lack of integrated institutions, lack of political will, policy formulation that excludes participation from 'people on the ground,' inadequate budget and a 'bias to restitution'. She said government should review its land reform policy and make it more 'pro-poor', introducing land taxes, ceilings on land ownership, more robust expropriations and the right of first refusal to the state on the sale of rural lands.

Mr G Solomons gave the following testimony. He had been living and working on a farm near Stellenbosch for ten years. Earlier this year his employer had evicted him and his wife after he had started organising a farm workers union. He went to his municipality, which gave him a tent to live in. He had been living in this tent in a public park since July. The municipality had now informed him to return his tent and vacate the park within seven days. Most of his possessions, for some of which he had spent years of saving to pay off, were damaged when his employer had them removed from his house and dumped on the street. He had nowhere to live. He asked the Committee to assist him.

Discussion
Mr D Dlali (ANC) was unsure about the CRLS recommendation for zonal and district based land reform. Did this require government to halt the current land reform system? What was meant by a 'one size fits all approach to development?' The document criticises slow paced land reform. Then it warns the Department against fast tracking land reform. Why this contradiction?

Ms Thyse said that the current problem facing the Department of Land Affairs was matching demand with availability of land. There seemed to be too many Department offices and Department institutions working in different areas with a uniform strategy, i.e. one size fits all. Instead, the Department should assess availability of land and its commercial viability on an area-to-area basis. Fast tracking land reform within the current policy framework would lead to bigger errors, backlogs and gaps between policy and implementation. The holistic policy had to be revisited first before the slow pace of land reform could be challenged. At the moment LRAD was operating under the misperception that all farm dwellers wanted to be farmers.

The Chairperson was puzzled by the claim that the land reform policy was not pro-poor. How could it be made more pro-poor than it already was?

Ms Thyse answered that the theory of land reform was pro-poor but not the practice. Government was nurturing a great deal of land for profitable foreign investment. A pro-poor approach would make more effective use of land expropriation rather than the market mechanism for redistributing land.

The Chairperson said that the Minister had approved a special committee to address the case of foreign purchasers of land and to find ways of reducing their power.

Dr E Schoeman (ANC) commended the CRLS report for confirming the differing land needs of various classes of people. How would Ms Thyse feel if the Department conducted a survey on the commercial expectations of the landless, from area-to-area, to discover which was subsistence or commercially goal oriented? Ms Thyse welcomed the idea.

Mr G Thomas, Deputy Director General, Department of Land Affairs, corrected Ms Thyse's observation that LRAD misperceived farm dwellers' needs. In the Western Cape LRAD had granted farm workers residential plots to live on. Also, the claim by the report that Government was under spending was correct only until 2001. Since then government had spent its funds and was largely under funded. He agreed that land prices in the Western Cape were too high for purchase through government grants.

Women on Farm Project submission
Ms W Pekeur reported that the Women on Farm Project operated in the wine and deciduous fruit industries. It strove to upgrade women's rights on farms, educating farm-dwellers and empowering them to organise themselves and collectivise their needs and expectations. There was currently insufficient access to water for many farm-dwellers and farmers committed human rights violations with relative impunity. Illegal evictions were commonplace. In other instances farm dwellers were coerced into accepting bribes to vacate their properties. In one example, a Briton purchased a farm and subsequently the farm dwellers were illegally evicted. They complained to the Municipality, which denied any responsibility. Ms Pekeur concluded that inadequate tenure security was the most significant failure of the land reform programme. She asked the Department to withhold all land evictions until the Extension of Security of Tenure Act had been thoroughly reviewed.

Discussion
Mr T Ramphele (ANC) was not certain what part of ESTA should be reviewed. Many of the cases mentioned seemed labour related. Had the Women on Farm Project approached the Department of Labour with their issues?

Ms Pekeur said that ESTA made no provision for tenure security of widows of deceased farm workers who had lived for less than sixty years on a farm. They had consulted the Department of Labour, which they had found to be slack at monitoring the implementation of labour laws.

Ms V Nxasana, Chief Director, Land Reform Implementation: Management and Coordination, said that ESTA did protect the tenure rights of widows on farms. Mr Ramphele and Ms Pekeur reminded the Committee that this protection was granted only to long-term occupiers of sixty years or more. Twelve months after the death of a farm worker the employer was entitled to evict the deceased's wife and family. The Chairperson emphasised that farmers and employers bent the rules contained in ESTA. The strictures of the Act should perhaps be tightened to prevent it being manipulated for private ends.

Dr H Mateme (ANC) asked how best the Department could engage with developing farm workers and farm dwellers?

Ms Pekeur replied that workers should be empowered to organise themselves into institutions driven by their own goals. Such an example was the Sikhula Sonke project that had come out of the Women on Farms Project, an institution of female farm workers.

National Land Committee submission
Mr D Mabokela listed the shortcomings of the land reform programme according to the National Land Committee. Currently the pace of land reform was too slow. ESTA was not effectively protecting the tenure rights of farm dwellers. The National Land Committee had discovered widespread human rights abuses of farm workers, including murder, and illegal evictions on farms. It felt the growth of squatter camps in rural areas was related to illegal evictions. The current Agricultural Black Economic Empowerment (Agri-BEE) initiatives were benefiting only an elite group of blacks. It needed to be more inclusive of black people. The National Land Committee recommended a moratorium on evictions, increased expropriations of farms 'from racist and abusive farmers,' and an increased minimum wage for farm labourers.

Discussion
Dr Matema felt that the document did not take note of the positive effects of land reform. The Inkezo presentation yesterday was testimony to government's progress with advancing gender equality on farms and empowering female farm workers. The claim of the document that 'there has been no change in land ownership patterns' was not accurate.

Mr Mabokela replied that in despite of its progress and isolated successes, land reform was, on the whole, too slow. The Minister had provided numerous excuses that did not absolve her from the fact that her policy framework was untenable for the government's 2015 target to redistribute 30% of agricultural land.

Mr Mabokela said his use of facts was based on the experiences of his organisation. The National Land Committee had frequently approached the Minister with a request for a Land Summit. Since 2001 they had received no response. A meeting with the Department of Land Affairs to discuss ESTA had also been requested and ignored.

Dr Schoeman criticised the report for its copious rhetoric and misapplication of facts. He questioned the report's criticisms of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that apparently justified proposed changes to domestic fiscal policies. WTO tariff structures were 'a way of life' that South Africa had to accept. Criticism of Agri-BEE was also unfounded.

Mr Mabokela responded that since 1999 the Reconstruction and Development Programme had failed because local food products were unable to compete with imported products that were subsidised abroad. Government should not relax its tariff structures in support of the WTO, because this was detrimental to local farmer's livelihoods. A good development model to take notes from was Kenya's, which had developed rural farming very successfully over a sustained period of years. Agri-BEE could be reoriented according to this model.

The meeting was adjourned

 

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