EDITORIAL: Decoding the ANC’s land grab folly
If the ANC wants real land reform it should start with land that is unaccounted for
Government’s latest land audit, dated November 2017, reveals some chilling statistics about the ownership of land, mirroring the historical ownership patterns of the country. It shows that white people own 26.6m ha of the 37m ha of land that is classified as farms and agricultural holdings.
That is 72% of the total under private ownership, described as land owned by individuals, trusts, companies and community-based organisations. Coloureds and Indians own 15% and 5%, respectively, while "other" has 3% of the farmlands. This refers to foreign owners of land in SA.
Africans, who make up over 80% of the population, own about 4% of the land, shows the report, released on February 5 this year. This 4% holding is the equivalent of 1.3m ha of all the land in private ownership.
This is the number that fills political radicals and opportunists with rage, which some have used to justify the need to expropriate land without compensation. But this is not the full story.
For full information, the 2017 land audit report must be read together with the first audit, which was conducted and published by government in 2013. Both audits relied heavily on information available from the Deeds Office in 2010 and in 2015. Data from Statistics SA was also used, as well as that from the home affairs department.
The first audit focused on land owned by the state, and found 14% of the land was in the hands of the state. "Land owned by national government, municipalities, provincial government, public entities, public schools was classified as [belonging to the] state, including land in the name of Ingonyama Trust," says the report.
To add to the land owned by the state, the 2013 report has a section called "unaccounted land", which is concentrated in the former Bantustans of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, totalling 8.4m ha.
Just under a quarter of the land in the Eastern Cape is "unaccounted" for. It is safe to assume that this is unregistered land under communities, or communal lands.
In this communal system, every member of the community has free access to land for grazing and for residential purposes. Control of communal lands is exercised through the community’s leadership structures, which are normally the level below chieftainships.
While individual families have control of land in the homestead, they do not have title deeds, and therefore cannot borrow against the land. Thus there is no market to trade or use it as security, which makes it less valuable than urban or farm land.
The 2017 audit report shows that SA is made up of 121.9m ha of land. Of this only 114m ha, or 94% is registered in the deeds office.
There is no doubt that what we saw in parliament last week was the hijacking of the land debate. Unfortunately, the ANC played along, while hiding behind the fact that it has done little to achieve land reform since coming to power.
A mandate to change the constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation merely gives fuel to a different category of radical and opportunist to embark on a scaremongering campaign that will hurt our economy.
If the ANC wants real land reform it should start with land that is unaccounted for. Title deeds must be handed to current inhabitants of land for them to properly harness its power and haul themselves out of poverty. And land in the hands of the state should be next to fall under scrutiny.
This country also needs a real commitment from the ANC to address the reasons for the failures of land restitution to date: weak institutions, corruption and shoddy implementation. Radical talk will amount to nothing without action.