Speaking Notes by Mr BH Holomisa, (MP) and UDM President
5th RENAPRI STAKEHOLDER CONFERENCE: Unlocking the economic potential of land through good governance
28 – 29 November 2018, Zanzibar, Tanzania
• Fellow panellists
• Ladies and gentlemen
1. Land itself at the crux of the matter: the South African example
As many of you will be aware, we in South Africa are in the middle of a heated national debate on land and the expropriation thereof without compensation.
This debate is of course rooted in South Africa’s deeply divisive past; the reverberations of which we still feel today. Twenty-four years into our democracy and the emotions still run high on both sides i.e. those who held the land under colonial rule and the apartheid regime versus those who were deprived of their land sometimes using violence and/or abusing the law.
I specifically launch from this point in my argument, precisely because having the conversation around the concepts of “land governance”, “economic transformation” and “agricultural transformation” is moot if one does not address property ownership and land tenure.
Because those in South Africa who are debating the issue of land are pulling in opposite directions, it is clear that the matter of land ownership in my country will not be sorted out that easily.
My political party, the United Democratic Movement, is of the view that the only way to find a meeting of the minds regarding land issues in South Africa, is for all stakeholders to gather under one roof and to have a constructive debate in order to find long lasting, sustainable solutions that will benefit all.
In the end failure to resolve land issues increasingly becomes a barrier to achieving other development objectives, to fight poverty and inequality, and to promote sustainable inclusive growth.
It is however true that the discourse on land in its manifestations is not merely about land as a physical item, but it is also about the reconstruction of society, inclusive economic growth and development, social development and power relations.
2. Land tenure and infrastructure development
Land tenure and deeds of ownership is a key to giving people access to finance. This means that people are directly empowered to enter the formal finance and banking sector and obtain credit with their property serving as collateral.
It is however vital to recognise that gaining access to land for collateral must first be preceded by infrastructure development or upgrading, since the lack or disrepair of infrastructure (especially in rural areas) negatively affects the value of the land.
3. Land tenure and rights under customary law and practice
One example we will undoubtedly share, in terms of land tenure on the continent, is that much land is held under customary law and practice where land allocation and use are managed by customary traditions.
Much of the agricultural activity in those areas is around subsistence farming, rather than having commercially viable enterprises that have higher productive profit-making farming, which will in turn create jobs and promote economic transformation in rural communities.
Therefore, one of the primary concerns of any government should be rural revitalisation. For any individual emerging farmer, or a group of farmers, access to infrastructure and agricultural tools is vital.
The creation of the necessary infrastructure will also generate jobs in rural communities and encourage the growth of more employment-creating agricultural-related enterprises.
It is easy to see how these kinds of activities will incentivise rural communities to consider commercial farming over subsistence farming.
4. Land tenure; emerging versus commercial farmers
In South Africa the disparity between emerging farmers and commercial farmers makes for a situation where the emerging farmer simply cannot compete with large scale farmers. The big farming concerns have easy access to financial resources and the tools of their trade.
This will never change if the land tenure question is not addressed comprehensively.
5. Land tenure; the rights of women
In particular, customary law and practices severely limit women’s rights to land and property.
It has been argued that the agricultural sector in rural communities is underperforming in part because women, who are often a crucial resource in agriculture and the rural economy, face constraints that reduce their productivity. One of those constraints is land which means they tend to have less access to credit and insurance.
However, many studies indicate that women would be able to achieve the same yields as men if they had equal access to land, production resources and services.
In terms of government’s role in the matter, improving transformation, removing infrastructure constraints, and encouraging rural women’s participation in farmers’ organisations and cooperatives can help.
6. Tenure and government’s role
• The sale of suitable state land to encourage local ownership for emerging and small commercial farmers to create jobs will enhance rural revitalisation.
• A government must also make use of the opportunity where farmers are willing to sell their land to facilitate access for emerging farmers.
• There is also an onus on government to acquire, or assist communities to acquire, land for development and agricultural enterprise.
• Government must assist those accessing agricultural land in communal areas to make better productive use of their land.
• Any government must have a comprehensive database for land use, planning and the efficient and sustainable use of agricultural resources throughout a country. The intention is to ensure that agricultural and other developments are sustainable and environmentally responsible, as well as ensuring that viable farmer settlement occurs.
• Government must also ensure closer cooperation between its various departments involved in agricultural business.
7. Anticipating how the land issue will play out over the next 5 to 10 years
I think that it will take longer than the next 5 to 10 years to make any long-term progress in settling the land issue in Sub-Saharan Africa. The wounds of the past are still fresh in many minds and to untangle the web that was spun during colonialism will take time.
That said, I don’t think that it’s insurmountable, if enough pressure is brought to bear by communities, agriculturalists, non-profits, governments and conferences of this nature, changes will happen.