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Carefully considered reform of ownership policies needed

8th June 2010

By: Bradley Dubbelman


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Land reform in South Africa was urgently needed, but experts warned against the devastating effects of uncontrolled land grabs, while delegates felt that existing mineral exploitation practices needed to be reviewed.




The issue of land ownership and the nationalisation of mines in South Africa was hotly debated at the twelfth Africa Day Conference hosted by the University of South Africa.



The conference was divided into three sessions with policy experts and academics weighing in with their views regarding the contentious topic of land ownership in the current political context.


The opening session of the conference provided an overview of the current state of property ownership in Africa. Research fellow from the African Institute for Agrarian Studies in Harare Dr Thabisi Murisa provided an analysis of the land reform occurring in Zimbabwe in order to understand the context under which that country's farm invasions occur.


The Zimbabwe case was further examined by Afriforum legal adviser Willie Spies, who presented a case in which a family of white farmers (the Campbell family) successfully challenged the invasion of their farm in a Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal. The Zimbabwean government, however, did not recognise the SADC ruling and proceeded with its land grab policy.


Spies followed by illustrating the debilitating economic effects that the policy had on the country, such as a significant drop in gross domestic product, a drop in production and an increase in unemployment, among others.


Former Agricultural and Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza provided a background sense to the urgency of land reform in South Africa, citing the lack of equal opportunity to land ownership and the slow pace of land reform.


The crux of the debate revolved around Clause 25 in the Constitution, also known as the "Property Clause", which provided for the right to private ownership of property. She said that South Africa was sitting on a "time bomb" as a result of the slow progress of reform and an increasingly frustrated previously disadvantaged citizenry.


The reformist faction addressing the conference, led by author and Soultalk Consultancy executive director Ngila Muendane, argued that the clause should be modified to facilitate the redistribution of land in order to ensure a more equitable structure of ownership.


Opposing this view, were those who argued that the Constitutional clause should be upheld, as the right to private ownership was a cornerstone of South African society and a fundamental human right. This view was mainly advocated by Democratic Alliance shadow minister of rural development and land reform Mpowele Swathe.




The speakers under this section were in agreement that the status quo regarding mineral exploitation was unjust and required further attention.


Former Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena argued from an economic and a moral platform that the profits earned by mining companies were disproportionate to the social benefits that local communities received. Mangena, however, did not call for full nationalisation of the mining industry, but rather for reform along the lines of a public/private partnership between the State and the mining companies. In this way, mining companies would retain their operations in the country, with the State acting as a custodian and overseeing issues of inequality and social injustice.


In conclusion, he argued that the mineral resources in the country should be used to advance economic justice and reduce social inequality.




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