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Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi is the author of a book about SA’s land reform failures. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi is the author of a book about SA’s land reform failures. Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

The ANC government blew an opportunity after 1994 to address land reform due to a number of factors, including corruption and its failure to speed up land restitution for 5-million affected people, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said late on Wednesday.

Ngcukaitobi, who often acts as a judge in the Land Claims Court, made this remark during the launch of his book, Land Matters, at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria.

The book looks at SA’s failed land reforms and the road ahead. Ngcukaitobi said to locate the logjam to the land question, one needed to look back during the transitional  period.

“I am personally very sympathetic with the ANC position during the transition. That is where my sympathy ends. After that, there is a period in which we acquired enough political power, military power and police power. But what did we do? That is where we squandered freedom and also squandered the possibility of freedom for young people coming after us,” Ngcukaitobi said.

He said for 15 years before 2017, there had been a gradual erosion of the budget available for land reform.

“They have been cutting the budget available for land reform so when you claim land or are not successful in claiming land, they have no money to pay you.”

He said one of government’s land reform programmes was restitution, designed to ensure 5-million South Africans who were forcefully removed from their land as a result of the Native Land Act get their land back or receive compensation.

“But it has been managed so disastrously that when a case came before the Constitutional Court in 2019, they said if the government goes according to the current pace, it is going to take another 718 years before it can settle all restitution claims.

“We have a huge backlog on restitution claims. These are people who are  claiming land because they lost rights after June 19 1913.”

Ngcukaitobi said following the negotiations that led to SA’s first democratic elections in 1994, people wanted to know what settlement the ANC and other political parties reached with the former white government on the issue of land reform.

He said a lot of people wanted to find out what the minutes from Codesa said about the land issue and what was the deal first democratic president Nelson Mandela struck with whites.

Ngcukaitobi said the deal reached in SA was that white people keep the land and property acquired under apartheid and colonialism. The government was to be given the power to take the land under a framework of laws, he said.

He said he had asked one of the former presidents why this arrangement was reached.

Ngcukaitobi said the former president explained that the liberation movement negotiators were not in a position of power.

“That was the true political economy we were engaged with. We were engaged with an enemy that was not defeated. Mandela knew the enemy had not been defeated.”

Ngcukaitobi said there are countries where freedom is acquired in war and thereafter the law is prepared by the victors, but there are countries where freedom has to be acquired through law, and SA is one of the latter.

“One of the reasons why we had to draft the constitution was to set a framework for freedom,” he said. 

The point about the political economy of the transition is that liberation movements entered into the negotiations with framing the agreement against them.  

“You think over a period of time I will acquire enough political power and also enough military power, police power and economic power to move towards reforms I need to create the conditions for freedom.”



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