The DA will write to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Thandi Modise, to request a debate of national importance on the failure of land reform in South Africa over the past 25 years. Minister Thoko Didiza’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has presided over a dysfunctional land administration system that has left land redistribution, land restitution and land tenure reform in complete chaos across the country.
The government’s flagship land redistribution programmes, the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) and the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS) have been so badly managed that it has led to widespread confusion, with affected farmers left facing an uncertain future due to a poor land tenure system.
Under LRAD, the government undertook to transfer land to previously disadvantaged citizens under lease to buy agreements. However, the DALRRD has reneged on the ‘lease-to-buy’ agreements, despite the commitment it made in 2005. On the 22nd of April, the DA wrote to Didiza and asked that she intervenes directly in the case of 6 farmers who were being thrown from pillar to post as they tried to action the purchase clause in their ‘lease-to-buy’ agreements. Didiza has not responded.
Similarly, under PLAS, a programme which was meant to address the skewed patterns of land ownership, the Department has only managed to enter into sale agreements with only 15 out of 730 PLAS beneficiaries since 1995. Farmers under the PLAS programme have now become vulnerable to farm evictions or the refusal by the Department to renew their leases. The moratorium on farm evictions, announced by Didiza, has failed to stop the issuance of eviction notices and the renewal of farm leases for famers under this programme.
The government has repeatedly failed to meet its own deadlines to resolve land claims and land restitution cases. In fact, the High-Level Panel Report to Parliament indicated that there are currently more than 7 000 unsettled land claims and 19 000 unfinalised ‘old order’ (pre-1999) claims. At this rate of progress, the report concluded, it will take 43 years before the backlog is cleared. In 2015, the Constitutional Court declared the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act 15 of 2014 to be invalid and ordered that land claims lodged by 1998 be finalised before new claims are lodged.
The ease with which the government has been able to wield eviction notices against vulnerable farmers has been influenced by lack of tenure security. Farmers have been given short term leases, leaving them susceptible to summary evictions from belligerent officials. A case in point is Ivan Cloete who almost lost his farm after he received an administratively flawed eviction order. It was only after the DA’s intervention that the Department rescinded the eviction order and agreed to give him a long-term lease.
Amending section 25 of the Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation, as proposed by the ANC, does nothing to provide justice for landless South Africans. The failure of land reform over the past 25 years has been the lack of action by government to ensure justice is served and land ownership patterns are addressed.
The DA’s position is consistent with the findings of the Motlanthe High-Level Panel Report which stated that “the need to pay compensation has not been the most serious constraint on land reform in South Africa to date.” It identifies evidence of corruption by officials, diversion of the land reform budget to the political elite, a lack of political will, and a lack of training and capacity as more serious stumbling blocks. These are all factors that the government has control over without need for recourse to constitutional amendments.
Parliament has a constitutional obligation to step in where government has failed. The DALRRD has shown itself incapable of addressing the chaos in land reform which has left many farmers at the brink of losing their livelihoods. This has to be fixed as a matter of urgency before the farming sector is plunged into chaos.
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