Letter: The case for land reform is moral and economic - Businesslive

Apr 13, 2021
13 April 2021 - Carol Paton says little that is original in her column on land politics (“Land matters. It is as simple and as complicated as that”, April 8).

Carol Paton says little that is original in her column on land politics (“Land matters. It is as simple and as complicated as that”, April 8).

Land matters, of course, and the role land dispossession played in impoverishing black people is a matter of historical record. The case for land reform is moral and economic.

Whether resolving the “land question” — assuming that is possible — offers a solution to SA’s socioeconomic and political malaise is less certain. Survey after survey has found that land reform (particularly in its agrarian expression) is not a major priority for most South Africans; rather, as befits a rapidly urbanising population, employment and the mobility it provides in a modern consumer economy dominates.

That said, properly executed land reform would hold benefits for its beneficiaries, and for the economy at large. Yet one needs to understand the limits of this: agriculture is a tough, unforgiving industry and contributes less than 3% of GDP. While policy, land reform is simply not a large-scale solution for a SA’s malaise.

The immediate question is not the general principle or imperative of land reform, but the policies proposed (at least nominally) to drive it. Expropriation without compensation — driven by a constitutional amendment, new expropriation legislation and other measures, such as the valuer-general’s regulations — stands to place extensive powers in the hands of a state that has demonstrated scant trustworthiness or even interest in undertaking its responsibilities.

The Institute of Race Relations believes this will do little to advance a productive land-reform agenda; indeed, it will establish the framework for taking across the economy, of which land will likely not be the most valuable. The consequences will be dire, and could foreclose SA’s prospects.

(This would presumably be recognisable in Paton’s reference to “considerations that are not unimportant: the impact of land reform and expropriation on the market, the banks and investor sentiment”. And, one might add, the lives of ordinary South Africans.)

SA must proceed with caution lest in the name of addressing historic wrongs we visit a new set on the present.

Terence Corrigan, Institute of Race Relations


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