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It has taken a good 15 years, but it seems the African National Congress (ANC) government has finally woken up to the fact that its lacklustre efforts at implementing land reforms to reverse the effect of restrictions on black ownership under apartheid could cost it votes. Never before has the land issue loomed as large in ANC policy documents, statements and speeches as since the Polokwane conference.
This partly reflects the new leadership’s tendency to populist posturing. But it goes deeper. Unlike his predecessor, ANC president Jacob Zuma appears to have a genuine affinity for the plight of millions of South Africans trapped without prospects in rural slums, which explains his popularity in these areas. He also knows they are in no mood to be fed more empty promises.
This explains the government’s decision, not announced yet but talked of as a fait accompli, to split the land and agriculture ministry. Agriculture will be merged with forestry, and one hopes run with more emphasis on the science and economics of farming. Land affairs will devote itself to the efficient and effective administration of land reform — something SA has yet to experience. Administrative bungling goes to the heart of the failure to reform land ownership, and underlies much of the frustration that risks alienating rural voters.
An incident in the Waterberg north of Johannesburg last weekend illustrates the point.
The Waterberg is covered with land claims, many being contested in court.
The agonisingly slow and inept process of finalising these claims, which were lodged over a decade ago, has had a catastrophic effect on the area. Joint venture investment plans with claimants are being shelved, and transferred properties are falling apart. Last year a lodge burned down after claimants trying to run a defunct residential tourism site without expertise or capital decided to occupy it, but failed to maintain fire breaks.
Today they wait in vain for new investors to appear.
A week later an endangered rhino in the care of conservationist Clive Walker, founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, was shot by poachers, the horns stolen, and the carcass left to rot.
Without endless bureaucratic bungling, none of these incidents would have happened. Walker’s neighbours, the Lapalala Wilderness, had come up with a brilliant solution years before.
Rapula, which owns Lapalala, offered to invest income from the sale of 13000ha of its land under claim in a 50/50 partnership with the claimants. The joint venture would sell a limited number of luxury lodges at a premium to investors. Part of the proceeds would be used to build two lodges, owned separately by Rapula and the claimants. The rest would be invested in a fund to maintain the entire wilderness area in perpetuity.
The partnership, which promised to create 330 jobs, was envisaged to run for 10 years. Continuing management and financial skills training would ensure a smooth transition to full owner management by the claimants of their valuable asset.
After negotiations that lasted years and included endless valuation errors, Rapula, the claimants and the Limpopo Land Claims Commission sat down three weeks ago to resolve two outstanding issues: calculation errors on the deed of sale, and new elections for claimant leaders, which had to be supervised by commission officials to be binding. Last I heard the miscalculation has yet to be fixed. Rapula lives in hope it won’t take much longer.
But the elections have not been held. Community leaders went to great expense to hire buses to transport voters to the polling station last Saturday, but the officials did not arrive. Seething community members who had waited in the sun all day were heard to mutter it was time to vote for the Congress of the People because the ANC had appointed these officials.
As Johan Rupert said in his speech to Pretoria University last October, referring to his own experiences with incompetent land officials processing a claim on his farm in Mpumalanga: “This has to be sheer and utter madness.”
Stephan Hofstatter, Business Day (South Africa), 2 March 2009