CDE logoOn Friday 26 October 2018, Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) executive director, Ann Bernstein, gave evidence to the Joint Constitutional Review Committee arguing for accelerating land reform but against changing section 25 of the constitution.

“SA’s failure to implement a successful land reform programme has absolutely nothing to do with constitutional constraints”, said Bernstein.

SA is a country with 50% of its population living in poverty, with the world’s deepest unemployment crisis and with tremendous inequality. “This is the backdrop to the hearings on land reform and the constitution. I represent an organisation concerned with developmental issues,” she said. “CDE’s core focus is to promote policy reforms that will raise the rate of economic growth, deal with poverty and create millions more jobs.”

In this context, Bernstein highlighted six key issues:

South Africa must deal with the historical injustice of land. This issue goes beyond the economy and people’s incomes, but in the context of unacceptable levels of poverty and inequality, the country cannot afford to implement land reform in a way that fails to improve the lives of rural people. “Beneficiaries must be better off afterwards,” said Bernstein.

SA’s failure to implement a successful land reform programme has “absolutely nothing to do with constitutional constraints” said Bernstein. Changing the constitution will at best raise uncertainty and reduce investment and at worst provoke a banking crisis that will destroy institutions such as the Land Bank, spill over into the rest of the economy and make everybody, particularly the poor, worse off.

SA’s struggling land reform programme can be attributed to increasing evidence of corruption by officials, diversion of the land reform budget to elites, lack of political will, lack of training and capacity. “It is an uncomfortable reality” said Bernstein, “ that state capacity is exceptionally weak with respect to all the skills and competence required for successful land reform: from buying land successfully and not at inflated prices, to providing support to new farmers, to choosing private sector consultants that are not themselves incompetent or corrupt.”

Successful land reform cannot take place without the assistance of existing commercial farmers. Over the past 10-15 years, many farmers and their organisations have demonstrated the willingness, capacity, expertise and now experience to make a positive contribution by facilitating land transfers and assisting black farmers to become successful. “If we want successful land reform and if we want rapid and steady expansion of black participation as owners, managers, and producers in the commercial agricultural sector, it is absolutely vital not to destabilize commercial agriculture through a mass programme of expropriation.”

Land reform must be undertaken as part of a broader rural development strategy. “SA has done terrible things to rural people in our past,” said Bernstein, “but we have never had a properly conceived rural development strategy and we desperately need one.” Such a strategy must recognise that the country is nearly 70% urbanised and that most South Africans need a secure place to stay. Those who are willing and able to farm should as much as possible be given the opportunity to do so, but the best place to create opportunities for millions of poor and unemployed people will be in well managed, enterprise friendly cities that move away from apartheid segregation.

SA must pay far more attention to how we manage urban areas to dramatically expand opportunities for the poor. We need to create cities of hope. “Urban land reform is a key part of urban management and there is much to be done here. Government needs to pay more attention and resource to the needs of our expanding cities – how to provide affordable housing and access to work without expanding the apartheid city is a key concern”, said Bernstein.

The CDE first commissioned research into land reform in 2005, and then produced further publications and recommendations in 2008 and again in 2018. In November 2018, CDE will release a new report entitled: Agriculture, land reform, growth and jobs – can SA make this work?

CDE publications of relevance

Viewpoints: Smallholders and land reform. A Realistic Perspective

Viewpoints: Why land expropriation without compensation is a bad idea

The Looming Land Restitution Crisis

CDE, Business and Land Reform

Land Reform in South Africa: Getting back on track

Farmers Voices: Practical Perspectives on Land Reform and Agricultural Development

Land Reform in South Africa: A 21st Century Perspective

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The CDE is an independent policy research and advocacy organisation. It is one of South Africa’s leading development think tanks, focusing on critical development issues and their relationship to economic growth and democratic consolidation. Through examining South African realities and international experience, CDE formulates practical policy proposals outlining ways in which South Africa can tackle major social and economic challenge.