Former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe says there is a lack of political will on the part of parliament when it comes to addressing the controversial land issue in the country. He was speaking at the Real Estate Industry Summit in Sandton on Friday.
What is needed is land reform, restitution and security of tenure – but the government is unduly delaying its implementation, he said.
No time to read
Motlanthe said that in 2017 he and a panel submitted a summary of a report on land reform that consisted of a “simple recommendation” that could be implemented in a month or two at no cost – but that parliamentarians made no attempt to read it.
“Despite the fact that it made very simple, straightforward recommendations, it was not read,” said Motlanthe.
He alluded to the fact that parliamentarians just do not like to read.
“Some of us [on the panel] are former parliamentarians and we understand that if you produce a tome report, it will not be read,” he said. “We grappled with this challenge, and we said we must have an executive summary so that those who don’t feel like reading huge documents might at least go through the summary.”
He said the unread report details the challenges that led to the passing of the Natives Land Act in 1913 (it was amended in 1936).
The aim is for restitution to be achieved peacefully. To this end, Motlanthe said the panel made recommendations to parliament for the constitution to make provision for relevant facts to be determined, including:
- How was this property acquired, and for how much?
- What improvements have been made on the property?
- For what is the property currently being used? (So the going rate of the property in the market at that time can be calculated)?
Motlanthe said the panel sees the value in setting that kind of standard, with section 25 of the constitution protecting property and making provision for expropriation in the public interest, while also stipulating how just and equitable compensation should be calculated.
Motlanthe suggested that parliament pass a law of general application, but the request fell on deaf ears.
Not explicit enough
The former president said the fifth parliament instead decided that section 25 is implicit about the right to expropriate land without compensation.
“The problem is that [government] lacks the political will to address the land question,” he said, adding that parliamentarians in their wisdom decided that section 25 is not explicit enough.
They want to amend it so that it might be explicitly clear that it shall be expropriation without compensation, he said.
“Let’s hope it won’t happen in a hundred years,” he said.
He pointed out that the leaders involved are wasting time on fruitless activities.
“They [parliamentarians] went out and had workshops and pretended to be listening to the people, but I can assure that by next year April they will come back and say that this is not a great idea and they will find a detour,” said Motlanthe.
He added: “There is no reliable registrar in this country. Nobody knows who owns what in terms of land in the former movements, specifically concerning the commercial farms because there is no record of them.”
He said the report recommended that:
- Townships and urban areas residents be given title deeds;
- Farm dwellers receive tenure, ensured by legislation, so that they are not easily evicted; and
- Former homelands are provided with security of tenure.
Motlanthe added that the creation of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was an error.
“This new department has no interest in land reform, it has no interest in restitution, it has no interest in security of tenure,” he said, adding that its preferred projects were about establishing agricultural parks.
He said the department’s officials lack an understanding of the primary needs of the communities they visit.
“They would go to a community which claimed land without taking the trouble to understand who these people are,” he said. “It would be certain families that bought a piece of land and they were uprooted from their piece of land and resettled elsewhere.”
Motlanthe said the department simply buys the land back and does not transfer ownership to these beneficiaries. “So that they [the department] can control and manipulate them [the supposed beneficiaries] over time.”
He said the Communal Property Associations (CPAs) formed by the department are not effective.
“These CPAs started with real problems because they are made up of people that are real claimants and people who are not real claimants,” said Motlanthe.
He referred to MalaMala Lodge, where government officials paid R1 billion to purchase the land.
“But they then turn around to the claimants and say your claim has been successful – you now own 50% of this business. The previous owners are your mentors. They are going to teach you how to run a business,” said Motlanthe.
“There is a lot of corruption in how these things were dealt with, and the department did so because they saw the gap and they thought they would get away with creating the impression that a claim has been successfully processed – yet they are not going to transfer ownership of the land,” said Motlanthe.
He stressed that title deeds are important because they are a commercial instrument.
“If we don’t issue these residents with the title deeds, we keep them from participating in the formal economy,” said Motlanthe.
He also urged government authorities to attend to the issue of water rights before these become an issue.