Just land solutions will take us all forward

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

By the acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System, Phumla Williams

Depending on which side you are on, the debate around the motion to explore the possibility of amending the Constitution so as to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation has been characterised by some people screaming murder and others celebrating in support of the proposal. In certain cases, reactions have regrettably been alarmist or have sought to paint a picture of a reckless push for land. Certain groups and parties have also tried to use the process to fear-monger. At the same time, illegal land occupations have taken place in various provinces, which has increased fears about the land redistribution process.

It is unfortunate that certain quarters have tried to derail a legitimate parliamentary process which seeks to be inclusive and therefore encompasses everyone’s point of view. In doing so they have muddied the waters and deflected from the pressing need for a national conversation on land. 

Only the most cynical would dispute and resist the need for greater land redress, combined with the pressing need for both agricultural and urban land, to undo damaging apartheid spatial planning. It simply cannot be that the vast majority of people are still locked out of the economic and social mainstream.

Answering questions in the National Assembly on August 22, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke of the damaging spatial legacy of the past. 

“The urban spatial patterns that we inherited from apartheid, and which persist to this day, contribute to the reproduction of poverty and inequality – and must be fundamentally changed. It is unacceptable that the working class and poor, who are overwhelmingly black, are located far from work opportunities and amenities. Among other things, this places enormous pressure on family life,” he said.

The discussion on land is fractious while being both necessary and vital, and government has repeatedly stated the support for land restitution and redistribution which will redress the sins of the past by allowing access to this valuable resource in a way that grows the economy, ensures food security, and increases agricultural production.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also made it clear that government does not intend to nationalise land. Speaking in the National Assembly, he also said government would embark on a process of rapidly releasing land owned by the state. Gauteng is one case in point. Serviced stands have recently been made available for people who can afford to build their own houses.

The parliamentary process, which began with hearings in different provinces, has allowed opposing views to be canvassed and will ultimately ensure we arrive at a workable and sustainable solution that will benefit all our people.

Our Constitution has not been amended and the current legislative framework still applies. While the parliamentary process unfolds, we will continue to advance land reform through existing programmes of land restitution, land redistribution and land tenure reform using the existing constitutional provisions.

The Constitution clearly states what can and cannot be done; as government, we respect the rule of law and will act in accordance with the Constitution at all times.

We therefore urge people to be wary of fear-mongering and those who selfishly seek to undermine the process to drive their own agendas. We are a country of laws and processes and we will at all times abide by the law and the Constitution.

Ultimately what should drive us all is the realisation that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and together we must do more to give all people access to land. The November 2017 Land Audit Report reveals that the majority of land still resides in the hands of a few.  We must therefore work to address skewed patterns of ownership in a responsible and sustainable manner while ensuring that food production is not negatively affected.

Government remains confident that through a process of dialogue, discussion and engagement, we will arrive at solutions that will take our country forward. South Africa is known for solving the most intractable of problems. We are the nation who proved the doomsayers wrong with our triumphant march to freedom and democracy in 1994.  

We will do so again by arriving at a just solution that will benefit everyone. Every South African has a role to play in navigating our nation through these turbulent waters. Let us pull together and find solutions to our challenges. Together we can break down the barriers that prevent our nation from moving forward.