04 November 2011

The Land Fallacy (III): the Green Paper on Land Reform

Meanwhile, the South African government carries on with land reform policies that are a mix of naively hopeful, resolutely ideological, politically expedient, but also occasionally pragmatic and useful. Some of the ‘principles’ were stated by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Mr. G E Nkwinti.

There is a strikingly positive note sounded in his address to AgriSA (predominately white land-owner farmers) in his speech of 13 October, “Opportunities and Challenges for commercial farmers within a new land reform policy framework: Building vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities, at Middelsdrift, Gauteng. (http://www.ruraldevelopment.gov.za/DLA-Internet/content/document_library/Ministry/Ministry_Minister_Speeches/minSpeech-14102011.pdf )

It begins,
“Dit is vir my ‘n groot voorreg om vandag hierdie konferensie toe te spreek, en ek dank u vir die uitnodiging. Ons loop nou al ‘n langpad saam!
[It is my great honour to speak at this conference, and thank you for the invitation.  We walk this road together!’]

In February 2010, I addressed you and I was sincere in stating that “ons wil die pad van ontwikelling en grondhervorming saam met julle loop.” This partnership won’t be short term, as we want to work together over the long-term”

Good words indeed, but the reality of the new Green Paper on Land Reform (http://www.ruraldevelopment.gov.za/DLA-Internet/content/document_library/documents/GreenPapers/GREEN_PAPER_LAND_REFORMAugust2011.pdf ) and the ‘Strategic Plan of 2011-2014 are more sobering. (See http://www.ruraldevelopment.gov.za/DLA-Internet//content/document_library/documents/Publications/Strategic_Plans/RDLR-STRAT-PLAN2011.pdf )

The first four pages of the Green Paper are devoted to a political diatribe based on what appears to be apartheid-era anthropology (especially the Afrikaans-university based volkekunde, and the ethnology of the Bureau of Native Affairs) and the work of the social historians of the 1970s and 1980s. The work of the social historians did not pretend to be about the present, and the mid-century anthropology, or volkekunde, even then presented a romantic view of the African past.

The authors of the Green Paper seem to have taken over the mantle of these approaches, together with a commitment to racialism that is worthy of Dr. Verwoerd and Dr. Eiselen. In any case, the authors seem to have taken over the heavy burden of advancing racialist thinking and African romanticism into the new century. The authors ostensibly direct their attention to what they call ‘rural blacks’ (sect. 3.1).

Whatever it is based on, it shows little regard for what actually happens in South Africa’s rural, farming, and small-town areas. Were the authors of government policy document like the Green Paper to take their heads out of the history books and look at the present, they would be surprised to find that there is scarcely a ‘peasant’ or rural farmer to be seen. Yet the Green Paper envisions “rural communities” with a society based on social relations that “are much deeper as they tend to be historical and inter-generational.” Citing the romantic notion of ‘ubuntu’, the Green Paper seeks to promate a ‘way of life’ “ which would have evolved organically, nourished and cemented by shared hard and good times.” This ‘vision’ might seem more appropriate to Hollywood movies, but it is justified with vague reference to ‘class struggle’ and racism of the past.

The Green Paper on Land Reform of 2011 begins with statements that are almost mystical in their overall ambition. It deliberately confuses the important distinction between government and party by stating ANC’s “goals” rather than principles of good government.
The preamble states that the ANC (not government) is acutely aware and “sensitive to the centrality of land (the land question) as a fundamental element in the resolution of the race, gender and class contradictions in South Africa.”

Thus, the failure of any policy, not matter how excellent, is effectively guaranteed by loading it with the weight of a commitment of ‘resolve’ the issues of ‘race, gender, class contradictions in South Africa’. No policy of any government, however well meaning and well funded has ever been able to do this, so it is not even remotely possible that a land policy in South Africa could accomplish this.

By loading what should be a practical policy aimed at achieving, at least, viability of an agricultural sector with such grand ideological ambition, failure is more or less guaranteed. This will be blamed on everyone but the ideologies and ideologues themselves.

When I lived in Tanzania during some of the darkest days of Tanzania’s socialist great leap forward in the 1970s, the country was taken back wards to the pre-colonial past. There was nothing in the shops, and the country was on the edge of mass starvation as ideologically-driven ‘land reform’ policies were gradually relaxed to allow the country to function again. It was said then that while Nyerere was ‘incorruptible’, it meant that he was not corrupted by money. Many people acknowledge to me that “Nyerere had been corrupted by ideology”.
This is now the case in South Africa. As the land claims process has led to increasing failures of farms that have been ‘restored’, as often happens, the ideological noose is tightened. By now, there has been so much global experience of this that one would think South African planners would be wise to the dangers. However, they appear to be still isolated within ideological cocoons. Will they be able to emerge from these cocoons as beautiful bright butterflies. It looks increasingly unlikely.

With words like ‘agrarian reform’, ‘class contradictions’, and ‘rural development’, a dated and naïve Marxism is evident. But with words like ‘vision statement’, ‘business strategy’, ‘strategic goals’, and ‘mission statements’, the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform’s “Strategic Plan 2011-2014 clearly buys into the rhetoric of global business’s magical evangelicalism.

In the preface to the Strategic Plan 2011-2014, the Minister, Mr G E Nkwinti states that “Land is a catalyst for poverty alleviation, job creation, food security and entrepreneurship.” Ironically, the Marxist and Statist agenda has been deeply confused with ‘entrepreneurship’ while at the same time planning to create 500,000 rural jobs through direct state intervention. Out of this, it hopes to achieve “food security.” The Minister goes on to say that his “department has therefore taken a conscious decision to recapitalise all distressed land reform projects, and to provide support to emerging farmers and rural communities.”

I suppose this is better than taking an unconscious decision, but by promising to throw good money after bad, it is likely that virtually all of any budget, no matter how large, will be swallowed up in attempting to replace infrastructure that has now been lost to neglect.
It takes only a few months for a farm’s infrastructure to decline past a point of no return. After this, it will be as if starting afresh to win a farm out of the bush. This is manifestly impossible as a purely government initiative.

The Minister assures us that he has “envisaged that this intervention will ensure production discipline, as well as contribute to job creation and national food security.”
While holding out the hope that all of South Africa’s problem will be solved by ‘recapitalisation’ of failed farming projects, not only will this lead to massive disappointment, but will result in loss of large amounts of capital … again.

The ‘principles’ for land reform are:
— de-racialising the rural economy;
— democratic and equitable land allocation and use across race, gender and class; and,
— a sustained production discipline for food security

Yet it is hard to see how an explicitly racial policy can ‘de-racialise’ anything. If the policy seeks to address the ‘rural economy’, as it says, then land reform itself can only be lost in a much more complex agenda of economic reform. A decision has to be made.

And, if land ownership is what makes class distinction ‘class’, then it is manifestly impossible to have a land allocated that is ‘equitable … across … class’ distinctions. This is fatally confused thinking.

Until there is a realization that it is not land itself that is at issue—that is, it is not ‘central’ or ‘fundamental’—but rather the social and structural conditions under which the land is used, there cannot be resolution of the ‘land question’. The government is asking the wrong questions, and is stuck in the past of a naïve Marxism weirdly ‘modernised’ with business-seminar evangelism. Neither perspective comes close to describing the reality on the ground.
Unfortunately, the Land Reform Green Paper is not the only government and legislative initiative based on romantic visions of an idealised past, and on vague Marxian-inspired maunderings. (We must note that the notions put forward are not Marxist in any rigorous sense, but ‘marxian’ of the most vulgar variety.)

Similar Romantic nonsense is to be found in the government bills and acts relating to ‘traditional knowledge’, traditional healing, and traditional governance, chiefship and other matters. They have little basis in contemporary social science thought or knowledge.
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