The Democratic Alliance (DA) will vehemently oppose any attempt by the ANC government to amend section 25 of the Constitution - the provision that protects private property against expropriation - after the Director General of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform proposed placing all productive land in South Africa under state control.
Director General Thozi Gwanya stated in his Department's 2010-2013 Strategic Plan that this was one of two options that the Department is considering. He confirmed in the document that this may have implications for section 25 of the Constitution:
"[Under option one,] all productive land will become a national asset and a quitrent land tenure system either with perpetual or limited rights is envisaged. This may require an amendment to section 25 of the Constitution."
A copy of the strategic plan can be downloaded from the DA Media Centre.
In other words, one of two options being considered by the Department is effectively the nationalisation of South Africa's farm lands. This is a quite astonishing development. The President has just come back from overseas where he categorically moved to assure investors that nationalisation is not on the ANC's agenda. He said South Africa is open to business. The tabling of this report is an absolute rebuttal of everything that Zuma said. Such a move would wreak havoc for South Africa's investment prospects, for our agricultural sector, and for prospects of improving land reform.
Though it is certainly the case that land reform under the ANC has failed, we know full well what needs to be done to ensure that all South Africans have access to agricultural land: give the land reform process the budget that it desperately needs. Over the past decade, funding allocated by the ANC government has not even averaged R5-billion per year - far short of the now R70-bllion that is estimated to be needed over the next five years to make real inroads into the problem. This is why the DA proposed, in our alternative budget, to expand the budget for Land Reform and Restritution grants by more than 50%.
But instead of taking land reform seriously, and giving it the budgetary backing it would receive under a DA administration, the ANC now seems to be weighing up a course of action that has a Zimbabwe-styled crisis written all over it.
Predictably, the Department of Rural Development has quickly tried to fudge the issue by claiming that making something into a "national asset" is not the same as "nationalising". Director General Gwanya told the Rural Development and Land Reform Portfolio Committee last week: "We are not talking about nationalisation if we talk about a national asset. Land must be treated like water, as a national asset, to ensure everyone has access... The state must intervene to ensure that every person has access to food. It must be a national asset for everyone. We have not resolved this, it must be debated on the green paper."
As far as we are concerned, Mr. Gwanya can use whatever language he likes to describe the proposal, but the fact is that placing all productive land under state control would be a recipe for disaster, and is precisely the sort of wrongheaded measure that would cripple South Africa's agricultural sector. Mr. Gwanya's repeated use of the word "must" is also particular cause for concern, since it hints that this may be the option that is being favoured.
South Africa needs to move beyond the old debate on whether all areas of the economy should be controlled by the state. Pragmatism and goal orientated polices for economic growth are needed in South Africa, not the policies that brought Zimbabwe to its knees. The DA will block any attempts to amend section 25 of the Constitution, and we will continue to argue for a state land reform policy that provides a comprehensive set of proactive measures, with budgetary backing, to tackle the stagnation of land reform in South Africa.