Monday, 14 November 2011

green paper on land reform

In our opinion, an analysis of the green paper supports the following contentions:
1.       The land reform programme has failed the poor and black people in general, especially women.
2.       Government is aware of this failure, but refuses to adopt fundamentally different policies for fear of upsetting white farmers/commercial agriculture and their allies, backers and advocates among the elite of the global capitalist system.
3.       The interests of the black poor and specifically that of the landless, demand that the green paper be scrapped completely and a new one be drafted by the landless masses themselves through a process of direct democracy.
4.       Civil society organisations would do well to devote the bulk of their resources towards supporting that section among the landless people that have run out of patience with the state and the market, and have started to occupy land they believe are rightfully theirs.
Our analysis and views draws on decades of experience of working with land hungry and farm dwelling communities, as well as on three workshops specifically called to the discuss the green paper with the emerging farmers and farm dwellers we work with. We were also privileged to exchange views with fellow civil society formations including AFRA, PLAAS, SCLC and the BRC, who all made early drafts of their submissions available to us. We see our submission as supplementary to theirs, without denying the possibility of different views on some of the issues.
Our views will be presented under the following headings:
·         Justifying land reform versus justifying land ownership
·         Land reform and neo-liberalism
·         Land reform, food security and food sovereignty
·         Land reform and agriculture
·         Landless people – active contributors or passive recipients?
The introduction to the green paper, with its historical overview of the racist dispossession and exploitation that colonialism and Apartheid perpetrated on black people in South Africa, seeks to provide a moral justification for land reform. 17 years after the 1994 elections, this should not be necessary but apparently it is. The take of the green paper on this overriding issue, leaves us with more questions than answers.
It is not clear, for example, why land restitution should be constrained by the cut off date of the passing of the Native Land Act of 1913. People dispossessed before that date, and by different methods, suffer the historical consequences of their dispossession the same as those affected by the act. Morally, they have the same claim to restitution as the victims of the 1913 Land Act. If government has a different view to this, as it apparently has, then it should be argued, not just stated in the way the green paper does.
The most important question, however, was left unasked and therefore unanswered in the green paper. It is not whether land reform is justified, but whether the ownership rights of white people are justified. Given this history of colonialism and Apartheid, and given the fact that it is these historical processes that has made land ownership a white privilege in present day South Africa, what is the moral justification for this privilege and ownership? Why should land reform make concessions to the interests of white land owners, as is assumed by the green paper? If black people are supposed to get 30% of the land, why are whites entitled to 70%? Nowhere is this explained, but the assumption runs not only through this green paper, but through the government’s land reform programme as a whole. The claim of the dispossessed to what they have lost is argued, but the claims of the beneficiaries of this dispossession are just assumed.   
The green paper makes no attempt to locate land reform within the context of government’s policy direction as a whole. It therefore cannot identify the underlying causes of the failures of land reform over the past 17 years. These causes have all to do with the commitment of the government to neo-liberal capitalism.
Much is made of the supposed failure of the farms of land reform beneficiaries. Are these the only farms that ‘failed’? The truth is that the liberalisation of South Africa’s agriculture in keeping with the extremist ideology of neo-liberalism, led to the commercial failure of the majority of white farmers in South Africa, whose farms ended up in the hands of mega rich agribusinesses that can prosper because they can manipulate the world’s food system and exploit economies of scale. The green paper overlooks this completely. One is left with the ugly racist impression of black incompetence.
The other question concerns the very way we understand failure and success in agriculture. Neo-liberalism understands success in terms of profit. A farm that grows its profit is successful even if its actions lead to greater poverty and hunger. This is exactly how government understands success in farming, despite weak protestations to the contrary. Subsistence farming is therefore almost inherently seen as a failure, despite its proven record as a weapon to combat hunger.
Neo-liberalism also constrains land reform by its commitment to cut corporate taxes and social spending. As a result the budget available for land reform is simply too small, making government put too many beneficiaries on any given piece of land, with too little support, which in turn also leads to farm failure.
But perhaps the ultimate constraint that neo-liberalism places on land reform is in its commitment to the protection of property rights. A land reform programme that succeeds from the point of view of the landless must of necessity disrespect the property rights of the current land owners. The green paper, with its mention of unspecified restrictions and conditions on freehold tenure, falls far short of this.
Fixing land reform therefore requires that government abandon its commitment to neo-liberal capitalism.     
In the green paper there is the refrain that government will make sure that land reform in no way compromises food security. This is an unjustified concession to the position of organised commercial agriculture that says that land reform is a threat to food security, and conversely that commercial agriculture is good for food security. Government needs to think this through and take a clear position.
The rural poor do not have food security, even when working on and living close to profitable commercial farms. In fact for the rural poor, land reform offers the only hope of attaining food security. At the same time commercial agriculture and food security have a far from mutually supportive relationship. Commercial farmers do whatever is profitable, not what promotes food security. Therefore thousands of hectares of the best land are devoted to wine and game farms that do nothing for food security, but actually undermine it for the poor. Or they cover fertile soil with single crops like oranges that does little for food security, or they grow feed for animals instead of food for humans. The latest growth area many commercial farmers are looking into is the production of bio-fuels, which will be a food security disaster for millions.
The green paper uses the concept of food sovereignty without defining it. This is a pity as more diligence in researching the meaning of food sovereignty might have given a more accurate appreciation of commercial farming. La Via Campesina, the global movement of peasant farmers and agricultural workers, developed the concept of food sovereignty during their struggle against the devastating effects of commercial farming dominated by giant business corporations on the livelihoods, job security and tenure security of the rural masses. They therefore understand that smaller farms owned by those that work it, producing for local communities with environmentally friendly agricultural methods are crucial to the achievement of food sovereignty. The agribusiness corporations that are the main advocates and beneficiaries of neo-liberal policies in agriculture are the enemies of food sovereignty. 
Land reform is firstly about land ownership and access, about land redistribution aimed at ending racist and sexist discrimination. However, the chemical-industrial model of farming pursued by current land owners make land reform also about responding to the environmental degradation caused by commercial agriculture. The green paper is silent about this and one can only assume that it supports the continuation of the current dominant model of agriculture.
We believe this is a big shortcoming. Land reform also needs to include a vision of the type of agriculture desired on redistributed land. Specifically it needs to support agricultural methods that do not damage the environment and concentrate land and wealth in the way that the chemical-industrial model does. We believe Agro-Ecology needs to be part and parcel of land reform, and that state support should be biased in favour of this type of agriculture that values social equity and environmental health.
The green paper proposes a series of new institutions – a land management commission, a land valuer-general, and a land rights management board with land rights management committees. These institutions do not propose to give any new powers or resources to landless people. Instead it would create a national network of forums where land reform activists can sit down and talk to state bureaucrats and white farmers, trying to persuade them to act with some concern for the landless. Unfortunately the record of such sit-downs is rather dismal. From the beginning of land reform landless people and their supporters in civil society have made countless submissions and had endless meetings arguing for the same thing. The pathetic failure of land reform and the relentless growth of rural misery is testament to the ineffectiveness of dialogue between those with power and money and those with nothing.
The truth is that land reform will only succeed to the extent that landless people are able to organise themselves into movements strong enough to defy, challenge and overthrow the oppressive power of the present neo-liberal state capitalist system. Every successful land reform programme in the history of the world has been driven by such movements. A key tactic that they used was to simply occupy and use land they felt entitled to. This is already happening in South Africa. If the green paper was serious about land reform it would recognise this and declare it legitimate. In Brazil, for example, the right of landless people to occupy unused land is officially recognised. In South Africa land occupations by the poor, though not officially recognised, is nevertheless justified in our view as long as racism, sexism, poverty, inequality and violence prevail as it does.