Pallo Jordan. Picture: PETER MOGAKI/SOWETAN
Pallo Jordan. Picture: PETER MOGAKI/SOWETAN

Does South Africa have “wannabee peasants”?

That is one of many practical questions ANC historian and intellectual Pallo Jordan poses in an analysis on “the land question”, which he says must be unpacked outside of the extremes of “hyperbole and double talk”.

In a paper published in the journal New Agenda, Jordan says that since the ANC’s conference in December 2017 “the issue has generated much heat, which has shed very little light on what addressing the land question in South Africa actually involves”.

Acknowledging that the land question is the most intractable issue that revolutionary governments have wrestled with during the 20th century, Jordan’s paper analyses its historical treatment in the ANC and the liberation movement.

He cautions that SA is searching for solutions in the environment of a modern industrial society in which agri-business and industrial scale farming provide most of the country’s food and where peasant and small family farms are marginal to the economy.

Jordan says there are a few considerations that have to be weighed in finding an equitable solution.

First among these is SA’s economic development from an agricultural colony of the British empire into Africa’s industrial powerhouse. Are there millions of South Africans in towns and cities who would prefer to live in rural areas? And how many of those still living in rural areas would prefer to stay there, he asks.

As most food is produced by huge agri-business farms, some directly associated with industrial companies, would these have to be unbundled so that they can be redistributed to “wannabee peasants”? If so, what effect would this have on the country’s capacity to produce food?

The status, position and future of workers who live and work on farms must also be carefully considered. Bearing in mind their historical and generational impoverishment and degradation, these workers need redress beyond material goods and services, says Jordan.

But is it helpful to regard farm workers as different from industrial workers? Have these expressed a desire to “dismember” industrial farms and redistribute them in portions as small farms? Does social justice mean we should forgo the advantage of economies of scale in production?

Jordan raises a similar set of practical questions in discussing land that was part of the homelands and is now under the jurisdiction of chiefs and the conundrums of the problem of redress in providing people access to urban land.

The paper stops short of answering the many questions posed. The full paper can be accessed here.