Land Reform budget aims to limit land ownership in order to expand the role of the state

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The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Thomas Walters MP, during the Budget Vote on Rural Development and Land Reform.

Honourable Chairperson,

This Budget Vote debate is presenting a choice in our history that needs to be unpacked for any discussion on Land Reform to be genuinely meaningful.

How we deal with this choice can deeply affect the lives of South Africans in the years to come.

What we do in this Parliament is the difference between a dream coming true or not; of real people having futures or not; a family going hungry or not.

It is not a game and real lives are involved!

It is our duty as the official opposition party and also a governing party over areas housing 16 million people to strongly challenge assumptions and highlight the choice between alternatives that are being made.

We also do so looking at this moment and its choices through the prism of a set of core values.

The Democratic Alliance has at the core of its belief system the individual.

Before you are part of a class, race, colour or ethnicity, you are an individual.

For us it therefore stands to reason that unless what we do changes the lives of individuals, anything else is mere layers of obfuscation standing in the way of change. Advancing individuals in non-destructive tandem with one another is synonymous with progress!

We further believe that unless each individual in South Africa can point at enhanced opportunity, receive fair treatment in their daily lives and can claim the freedom to pursue dreams, government is failing. Our optimistic values are summarised as Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity!

All of this, of course, must be done in a contextually intelligent manner which takes into account our particular history and what shapes the lives of individuals, especially the forgotten rural poor.

In short, Honourable Chair, we make our choices and judge this budget and its concomitant legislation based on the extent to which it advances these values.

This budget is meant to support a flurry of legislation coming to us, that also provides further context to what we are doing, that can briefly be summarised as follows:

It aims to limit land ownership in order to expand the role of the state.

The upcoming Regulation of Agricultural Land Holdings Bill is essentially aimed at dumping a lot of land on the market, in the belief that that will advance access to land.

It aims to secure a privileged position for the state as an operator, price setter, purchaser and distributor of land.

The new draft regulations for the valuation of land aim at setting a standardised land pricing system towards this objective.

All of this is superficially founded on a belief that the state is the vehicle of change in society and our budgets are also being led by these assumptions.

Honourable Chair,

These assumptions are not born out by the facts and we believe the underlying problems are simply being sidestepped.

The same ANC Government who wants more power and more control have shown that it is the very reason why land reform is failing and we cannot have more of the same:

More than R80 billion has largely been wasted in a commercial rural land market estimated at a size of R192 billion.

Billions and billions were lost in wasteful expenditure each year by the ANC government that could have been spent on land reform, fiscal dumping without meeting targets and of course, the ANC’s perennial bed-partner, corruption.

The government blames the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle, but the truth is that acquisition is so mismanaged that it often takes years to process sales.

A massive failure rate of creating successful farming ventures exists.

In 2011 this government had a 90% failure rate in its land reform ventures.

It improved in this term to, what the ANC is proud of, a 73% failure rate when recap funding was used to support the failing projects, of course not inherently dealing with the problem but simply throwing money at what are essentially becoming state supported farms.

The ANC did nothing to ensure title deeds, or at least proper long term tenure, is secured for occupants of state or communal land.

This prevents the rural poor from accessing opportunities in the market place and making these desperately poor, forgotten areas prosper and attract investment.

The same applies to beneficiaries of land reform that are in truth exploited labour on inefficient state owned farms.

A state interested in advancing the poor and having individuals advance themselves, would not have underfunded, delayed and politically abused land claims as the recent Constitutional Court finding in this regard underscores.

Ask land claimants who have been waiting for their claims to be resolved since the late 1990s.

Today, beneficiaries (without ownership of land) are still reliant on support by strategic partners chosen by a government more interested in helping its cronies advance themselves, than interested in supporting beneficiaries achieve their dreams. Ask the beneficiaries of Nirwanda farm in the Hex River Valley how they benefitted from their Strategic Partner, a close, and should I say safe ally and funder of the ruling party.

It is now clear that the ANC prefers to keep the poor from owning property, stealing their futures and sustaining the colonial and Apartheid practice of keeping the poor dependent on government.

It uses poverty and state largesse as mechanisms to maintain a voting bloc for itself.

We cannot therefore accept that somehow the very state that has shown itself as the single biggest enemy of the poor is the vehicle of change.

Now government is intending to introduce legislation and regulations that will destroy the value of land, potentially ruin our financial sector and drive away internal and external investment, again destroying hopes and dreams.

It tries to provide political cover by stoking racial division, stereotyping commercial farmers as the obstacle and creating lightning conductors from their failure even if it does not exist.

There is a real choice that can be made because successful land reform is happening.

The Democratic Alliance challenges ANC governments to emulate our successes in Share Equity schemes (with between 60% and 80% success rates), based on win-win partnerships.

It should follow the DA Metros example of vastly accelerated provision of title deeds to the poor!

We believe the poor should own land! That is the choice we need to make!

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