Struggling crop farmers highlight need for skills training and production finance, writes Nomazima Nkosi
In the scorching heat on the outskirts of Uitenhage’s KwaNobuhle township, Lungisile Vusani works the land. The soil is hard and dry, with patches growing butternut, spinach and cabbages.
In its heyday the garden – the size of two football fields – was a lush green source of vegetables, operated by the 27-member Sandile Cooperative.
Almost 16 years later, despite investment from the municipality, like many others in Nelson Mandela Bay, its crop and profits have dwindled and its membership has dropped to just three people.
Vusani, 66, many who joined the partnership in 2002 were not fully prepared for the hard work that came with farming.
From the garden this week, Vusani said this was why the ANC’s new resolution on land must be properly interrogated.
At its conference in Johannesburg last month, the party resolved that the constitution be amended to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation as part of its radical plans to create an inclusive economy.
In his annual speech in East London today, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to shed light on how its land redistribution policy will work.
Vusani warned that the government and the ANC should not just give people land without educating them on how to generate income from it.
“The people from whom they are taking the land are the same ones who are putting food in people’s mouths and on their tables,” Vusani said.
“If you give people land who don’t know how to work it, it is a complete waste of time and money.”
Another small-scale farmer, Lisa Mabhulu, also from KwaNobuhle asked how the government would choose those to distribute land to.
Mabhulu, 78, and partners have been farming crops on municipal land for 10 years.
“Who is actually going to get the land?” Mabhulu asked. “If the government could even give us this piece of land here, it would be a dream come true.
“We’re always worried that they might tell us to go, but so far we have not been disrupted by anyone,” the former domestic worker said.
Earlier this week, Ramaphosa said the policy would not be a “smash-and-grab” operation.
He said land was being returned to its original owners and the government would be mindful to secure food production.
However, agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo said expropriation without compensation was not an ideal way of effecting land reform.
He said it would undermine property rights, investment and the integrity of the land market, negatively affecting food security and the broader economy.
“We believe there are ways of achieving accelerated land reform with less risk to investor or business confidence in the sector that should be meaningfully tested,” Sihlobo said.
Nelson Mandela University history professor and land expert Nomalanga Mkhize said the ANC was under pressure to regain its popularity and had no clue how its land resolution would work.
“What does it mean when a state says it won’t compensate?” Mkhize asked.
“The state can’t be allowed to believe that it has the power to just take things from the citizens, even if the citizens are the historically wrong ones.
“Even if they had said they would compensate at a minimum, that would be better.
“In the end, black people will find themselves at the end of those same mechanisms being used in ways that are destructive to black people,” she said.
Institute of Race Relations policy fellow Terrence Corrigan said Section 25 of the constitution did not refer only to land alone but property as well.
“There is nothing to suggest any move to open the way for expropriation without compensation will be limited to land.
“We believe it will be designed to provide the state with vastly increased latitude to seize property in a wide variety of contexts,” Corrigan said.
Werksmans Attorneys director and land claims expert Bulelwa Mabasa said she did not think there was anything inherently wrong with the ANC’s policy proposal.
Currently, she said, Section 25 of the constitution stated that no one could be deprived of land in an arbitrary manner.
“For the ANC to succeed, it has to go over the hurdles that are stated in Section 25. Someone might argue that the property clause is such an important clause in our society because our constitution is based on three rights – equality, freedom and dignity,” Mabasa said.
She said land audits would need to be done countrywide before expropriation could even take place. “We’ve got a lot of land that is still in trusts where we don’t know the founders of the trusts and the majority of land is held in white hands, but we don’t know scientifically and as a matter of fact to what extent.”
Commercial farmer and Alexandria Agricultural Association chairman Brent McNamara said the land reform policy was completely irresponsible and a disinvestment in the sector.
“Government has focused solely on the transfer of land but there hasn’t been any emphasis on transfer of skills and ensuring beneficiaries have access to production finance, which is probably more important than land,” he said.