Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

A "festering wound" is what President Cyril Ramaphosa calls the unfinished business of land reform in SA, saying that only by returning the land to the people from whom it has been taken, will the wound heal.

"Black people want their land back," he said on Monday night.

Ramaphosa reiterated his previous statements that the government looks to agriculture to drive SA’s economic rejuvenation but that this is constrained by the lack of transformation in the sector. He also repeated the ANC’s commitment to see the constitution’s section 25, the property-rights clause, amended to make "explicitly clear" how the provision will allow expropriation without compensation.

This, Ramaphosa said, will accelerate land reform and thus transform the sector.

Land reform began in earnest with a number of laws enacted to reverse the effects of the Native Lands Act of 1913 by way of restitution, land-tenure reform, and land redistribution based on market-led agrarian reform. Successive ANC governments have, however, admitted that this has largely failed and by 2006, the willing-buyer willing-seller principle was abandoned in favour of expropriation with compensation in "just" amounts, as then land claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya put it.

The ANC’s view changed when Ramaphosa announced that it favours expropriation without compensation (EWC) and that a parliamentary joint constitutional review committee would consider amending section 25 of the constitution to achieve this. But last month, the president pre-empted the commission’s findings and said the ANC would propose such an amendment in parliament.

Organised commercial agriculture, financial institutions and the property industry have rejected EWC as a threat to food security, agricultural production and the economy.

Delivering the keynote address at the African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) Agribusiness Transformation Conference in Kempton Park on Monday night, Ramaphosa replied to challenges put to him by Afasa president, Vuyo Mahlati. She said black farmers needed three things to transform the agricultural sector: land, water and energy.

She also enumerated issues hampering farmers’ development, such as stock theft and extension services, and said black farmers should be taken seriously. "[The government] should enable us. We’ll transform ourselves."

Ramaphosa promised support which, among other undertakings, will see the creation of an aggregated procurement platform of farm goods. He also acknowledged the difficulties in aligning land rights and access to water for farming and vowed that this will change and that all obstacles to transformation will be removed.

Earlier on Monday, controversial director-general in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries department Mike Mlengana said the government noted the call for freehold title among black farmers, and that this is under consideration, but that in the meantime, farmers without title had to contend existing policy, which allows for 30-year leaseholds.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana stripped Mlengana of his "delegations of authority"‚ according to an internal memo circulated on Monday, the Sowetan reported on Tuesday.

In a panel discussion, the CEO of Joburg Market tackled a perennial complaint by emerging farmers that they have no or little access to markets, saying black farmers have to create their own market, and that it was not just farming that has to be transformed but the entire value chain. He said that although the city’s fresh-produce market is dominated by white agents, this does not have to be the case. Joburg Market has the space and the intention to help black farmers, but it needs a packhouse for black producers.

To emerging farmers, he said: "When are you going to stop emerging?"

blomn@businesslive.co.za