Zuma calls for meaningful debate on land restoration

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cape Town - Correcting the effects of the Natives Land Act of 1913 is a critical cog in the wheel of the state, as well as a crucial component in the National Development Plan (NDP), according to President Jacob Zuma.

Passed by the Union of South Africa in 1913, the Natives Land Act gave the right to own the biggest parcel of land in South Africa to whites, while blacks, in the words of former African National Congress secretary-general Sol Plaatjie, had to be content with being pariahs in the land of their birth.

Zuma was speaking at a gala dinner to mark the centenary of the passing of the Natives Land Act on Thursday night. He said it was an occasion for optimism.

“The reality is that these days are behind us. A great wrong was done, and now it is up to us to follow-up by doing a great right. We are now in charge of our own destiny.  We have achieved a successful transition to democracy.  We have a model Constitution, based on fairness.”

But he said South Africa still had to reverse the dreadful pattern of poverty and landlessness - “the havoc created by the Natives Land Act”.

“Correcting the consequences of this Act is a critical cog in the wheel of state - it is a crucial component in the National Development Plan. There can be no successful national development without accompanying rural development and land reform.”

He remarked it was good that there was still co-operation on this matter in South Africa and that the land question was being treated with sensitivity.

The Cabinet approved the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill for publication and public comment in May 2013. In addition, the National Assembly recently also approved the Special Planning and Land Use Management Bill which was now before the National Council of Provinces.

These two Bills would help to reverse the process. “But, as I said earlier, success will require national support,” Zuma said.

The NDP aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. It projects what the agricultural sector should look like in 30 years’ time.

“In this case, it is important to stress that land reform is not just about how much land is given back to claimants, but should include skills transfer.”

Claimants should be empowered to use land productively for job creation, food security and attracting young people to farming. Government would also provide better incentives for commercial farmers who were willing and capable of mentoring smallholder farmers. Adequate post-settlement support to new landowners would also be given so that land continued to be productive.

“We call on all South Africans to commemorate this landmark, with a view to correcting the wrongs of the past and to reinforce reconciliation. We urge the public to participate in the process of improving land redistribution and reform to reverse the impact of the 1913 Act. We call on the public to engage in a meaningful debate about the acceleration of land restitution, within our constitutional framework.”

Reflecting on the Natives Land Act, Zuma called this legislation the original sin of those who had come to settle in South Africa.

He added that the apartheid government, which had succeeded the Union Government, had from 1948 also relocated black people into impoverished homelands and poorly serviced townships.

“Since they could no longer provide food security for themselves and their families, they were forced to look for work far away from their families. The Act marked the beginning of socio-economic challenges the country is facing today such as landlessness, poverty and inequality,” Zuma said.

The Natives Land Act was repealed in 1991. Its legacy was still being felt today almost 20 years after South Africa became a democratic country.

When a democratic government was elected in 1994 it committed itself, in accordance with the rule of law, to address the inequalities of land ownership and “particularly to those dispossessed as a result of it. Land dispossession is no doubt the fundamental violation of the rights of the indigenous people and the original sin, so to speak, of those who came to settle in the country.”

The government had undertaken to restore 30 percent of the land to black people by 2014. Since 1994, when the first democratically elected government came into power, Government has been addressing land reform through restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. The national policy of reconciliation and nation-building also guided this process.

“As we are all aware, progress has however been slow and we have admitted that the 2014 redistribution target will not be met. Only 6.7 million hectares of land had so far been transferred through redistribution and restitution.”

Government also became concerned in 2009 by the slow development of the rural areas.

“Our view is that people living in rural villages should also have water, electricity, sanitation, quality health care and education, roads and income generating activities.” – SAnews.gov.za

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