Zuma’s land grab urgings to traditional chiefs; desperate move by a declining force – BizNews.com, 17 March 2015

Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma made an impassioned plea for the country’s traditional leaders to organise, raise money, instruct lawyers, and lodge claims to land under the re-opened land claims process before the current window shuts in June 2019.

By Alec Hogg: 

It is common cause that South Africa’s ruling political party is a single election away from losing control of the country’s largest metropole – Johannesburg – and potentially the commercial heartland province of Gauteng. Voters have been impressed at the governance of Cape Town and, indeed, the Western Cape province. Realising that the alternative to ANC rule can be a huge improvement. There is little new in this trend. Except where they are able to rig the elections, liberation movements worldwide rarely succeed for long in Government. There are too many debts to be repaid, too many loyalties to be honoured, too many party hacks to be deployed in positions that are beyond their competence. In the local context, while the ANC has not been able to absorb lessons from economic and governance errors, its 72 year old leader has not missed the opportunity of reaping voting support from an area where it is still easy to secure. In this brilliant analysis, the IRR’s Anthea Jeffrey (right) explains how President Jacob Zuma is wooing that anachronism of a modern democracy – traditional leaders – to shore up votes for the political tests that lie ahead.

By Anthea Jeffery: 

Earlier this month, President Jacob Zuma made an impassioned plea for the country’s traditional leaders to organise, raise money, instruct lawyers, and lodge claims to land under the re-opened land claims process before the current window shuts in June 2019.

Unless the chiefs came together in this way, said Mr Zuma in off-the-cuff additions to his written speech at the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders on 5 March 2015, they could be ‘defeated’ as their great-grandfathers were when they were ‘invaded…and colonised’.

Said Mr Zuma: ‘I urge the traditional leaders to adopt a different approach… We should all come together as traditional leaders,..so that there is no land that remains in the wrong hands simply because we couldn’t help the poor with lawyers to claim it… The claims [must] be done properly, not emotionally…. You can even want half of South Africa, but you may not get it, you may not get even a piece of it… [But] the cut-off date is 2019,…[so] you still have time… Now we have the opportunity at least, perhaps not to take it all back, but at least to gain land that was taken from us.’

These impromptu comments show that the African National Congress (ANC) has little interest in empowering the poor by giving them individual title to the land they might have lost under apartheid laws.

Instead, the ruling party is looking to vest control of large swathes of land in the chiefs under the re-opened land claims process. The chiefs will then allocate portions of this land to the rural poor. However, the poor will not be given security of tenure. Instead, they will have land-use rights which can be terminated at any time if they anger or disobey their chiefs.

The ANC, it seems, wants the chiefs as its loyal enforcers, who will make sure their subjects vote the ‘correct’ way come election time. With the urban electorate turning against it in many metropolitan areas, the ANC needs the rural vote to maintain itself in power. Hence, its desire for an expanded patronage system in which the chiefs will play a crucial part.

Mr Zuma’s remarks are couched in the language of dispossession and play up the importance of African culture and tradition. But South Africa is a modern, industrial, and rapidly urbanising society in which 63% of the population already lives in urban areas. In addition, only 8% of people want land to farm, while most rural residents (as journalist Mondli Makhanya has written) prefer to ‘head for the city to seek employment and upward mobility there’.

Against this background, it is profoundly damaging for the president to be encouraging the lodging of land claims on a large scale. If major swathes of land end up under claim, there will be little security of property rights for long periods in the areas affected.

Some 20 years have passed since the first window period (1995 to 1998) for the lodging of claims was opened, yet thousands of the 79 000 or so claims from this time still remain unresolved. If another 379 000 claims are to be lodged in the new window period (2014 to 2019) – as the Government anticipates and Mr Zuma seems to be encouraging – it will take at least two decades, and probably much longer, for all these claims to be finalised.

The negative impact will not be confined to commercial farmers, as the recent gazetting of a land claim over much of Pretoria has shown. Chief Victor Lekhuleni’s claim to some 25 000 hectares in and around the city includes not only farms but also industrial zones, shopping centres, residential areas, schools, hospitals, and the whole of Mamelodi.

Pending property sales in this area have already been cancelled by anxious buyers. Banks may be reluctant to finance the purchase of properties where title is now uncertain. The Land Claims Commission is also demanding that it be kept informed of all proposed property sales, which it has the power to veto if it thinks necessary.

The more land claims expand, the more impact this will have on the property market and on anyone wanting to buy land for any purpose. This will inevitably reduce investment in mines, factories, shopping centres, housing estates, and the like. This will further stifle economic growth and limit the creation or retention of jobs. The resulting economic malaise will profoundly affect all South Africans, both black and white.

What is also happening behind the scenes is that the small and unelected South African Communist Party (SACP) is using its dominance over the ANC to limit and ultimately destroy property rights, which are an essential foundation for the market economy, individual prosperity, and fundamental civil liberties. The impact will fall most heavily on the rural poor living under the aegis of the chiefs, but all South Africans will be badly hurt as the economy stutters, unemployment grows, and the ANC becomes more arrogant and less accountable.

Anthea Jeffery is Head of Policy Research at the IRR (Institute of Race Relations). She is also the author of BEE: Helping or Hurting? which analyses the impact of land reform to date.

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