Land reform experts discuss equitable access to land at UWC

Image credit: Jesi Townsend, UWC
Image credit: Jesi Townsend, UWC

By Nicklaus Kruger


The University of the Western Cape (UWC), together with Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare, recently held a two-day conversation regarding land reform issues.

“If there’s one thing that is clear about land reform, it’s this: as a country, we have wasted the opportunity over the last 25 years to drive a truly transformative land reform process - and there’s a lot of work to be done now.”

So said Professor Ruth Hall of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), speaking at the close of the national Resolving the Land Question conference. “There are some who feel that the answer is to fix the state, and get it working in favour of the poor. Others have given up on the state, and feel that the private sector is going to have to be the driving force of land reform going forward A third group feel it is the absence of mass mobilisation of rural and urban people that has held us back.”

The conference sought to get beyond the headlines about land expropriation and the issue of compensation, and examine more complicated aspects of the discussion: Who should benefit from land redistribution in rural SA? How should land for redistribution be identified, acquired and transferred? What kinds of rights should beneficiaries hold on redistributed land? What kinds of support should be provided to beneficiaries? What are the desired outcomes of such redistribution?

Prof Hall is also a member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Advisory Panel on Land Reform, the group of agricultural and land policy academics, professionals, social entrepreneurs and activists who advise the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on land reform on a broad range of policy matters including restitution, redistribution, tenure security and agricultural support.

The Panel, which has been meeting regularly since September at the Union Building, also met at UWC on 6 February to refine their policy proposals.

“We are meeting to discuss two primary issues,” Prof Hall explained.  “One is the question of expropriation; and the other is how do we ensure the construction of a compensation policy. But our role in general is far broader - to review all elements of land reform. We’re looking at rural urban land tenure and urban access to land, agricultural support and models of land redistribution, expropriation, and so on.”

“We are a diverse group - with many views on why we haven’t done better on land reform, and how to do so,” said fellow Panel member Wandile Sihlobo. “And while we are looking to find points of agreement, we’re not only looking to find consensus, but also to identify a range of potential solutions and proposals to be considered further.”

Looking at land reform from all angles

That diversity of opinion and approach was echoed by the conference participants, who discussed a variety of ways of looking at the relevant issues. Naturally, the two-day conference couldn’t resolve all the relevant land reform issues and come up with a watertight set of proposals - but the need for both broader and more in-depth analysis was held by all.

The authors of three commissioned papers presented their proposals for a new and reinvigorated land reform process, reflecting three distinct ideological positions and proposals for how to resolve the land question.

A ‘smallholder’ proposal by Professor Michael Aliber of the University of Fort Hare;

A ‘radical’ proposal by Mazibuko Jara of Ntinga Ntaba ka Ndoda;

A ‘pro-market’ proposal by Professors Nick Vink and Johann Kirsten of the University of Stellenbosch.

“If there’s one contribution to the wider public debate that emerges from this conference, it’s this: we need to learn to think holistically about land reform,” said Professor Ben Cousins, founding director of PLAAS and SARChI Chair in Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies. “Unlike many other societies which have grappled with land reform, South Africa is a complex society with a complicated set of social needs to satisfy and interest groups to balance. We need to think in terms of a range of needs and outcomes - and a range of mechanisms to achieve them.”