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Opening remarks by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC Land Workshop

19 May 2018, Birchwood Hotel, Ekurhuleni

Programme Director,
Comrades and Friends,

The resolution adopted by the 54th National conference of our movement on the land issue has unleashed perhaps the biggest political debate on any issue since 1994. Wherever you go, there is an opinion being expressed on the issue. This is to be welcomed. The fact that well over 140,000 submissions have been made to Parliament is indicative of the importance South Africans from all walks of life attached to this important debate.

It is common cause that the debate that our nation is engaged is about how we should deal with this most important resource – land that was taken from our forebears hundreds of years ago.

I have characterised the dispossession of land from our forebears as the original sin that was committed against our people by the colonial invaders. In response to the violent onslaught of land dispossession our forebears engaged in gallant battles and wars to resist and stop the dispossession of their land and retain their sovereignty.

Alfred Taiaiake, an indigenous Mohawk Canadian, activist, educator and author at Cornell University describes the historical challenge that people who have been dispossessed of their land have had to go through more aptly when he saysFor many generations we Indigenous people have been in a life and death struggle for survival, for respect of our humanity, restoration of our nationhood, and recognition of our rights. This whole time, a constant surge of ancestral memory running through our veins has empowered and enlivened us and given us the gifts of tenacity, anger, patience and love, so that the people may continue and so that the generations that are yet to rise from the earth may know themselves as the real people of their land. The voices of our ancestors continue to call out to us, telling us that it is all about the land: always has been and always will be... get it back, go back to it. We have fought for the land and for our connection to it. For five hundred years, it is this struggle to restore the living relationship between our ancestors, our land and ourselves that has defined us as Indigenous people, and it is this struggle that has ensured our survival in the face of ignorance and violence. Now that we have proven that we will not accept annihilation, we find ourselves in an era of reconciliation”.

We are meeting here today to fulfil an undertaking that the founders of our movement made over a century ago. It is an undertaking that is underpinned by that constant surge of our ancestral memory that continues to run through our veins and continues to empower and enliven us and gives us the gifts of tenacity, anger, patience and determination.

From its formation, the African National Congress has fought for the return of the land to its rightful owners.

It has fought for the wealth of the country to be shared and for the rights of all its people to be equally and universally respected.

We are meeting here to give effect to the demand of the Freedom Charter that: “The land shall be shared among those who work it.”

We are giving dedicated attention to this fundamental task because the resolution of the land question in South Africa is central to the achievement of a National Democratic Society. This task we are involved in was so aptly described by David Pilling when he wrote recently in the Financial Times that by addressing the land question we are in effect yielding to the inevitability of history.

Without the redistribution of land, we will not build a united South Africa.

Without the recognition of the property rights of all our people, we will not overcome inequality.

Without giving the poor the means to productively farm the land, we will not defeat poverty.

By addressing the land question we are engaged in an effort to undo a grave historical injustice.

There is a strong moral imperative that drives this effort.

There is a political imperative, which is rooted in the formation of the ANC, which extends through successive electoral mandates, and which most recently finds expression in the resolutions of the ANC’s 54th National Conference.

There is a clear social imperative to the issue of land.

To our people – indeed to all people – land is about dignity, identity, security.

It is intimately linked to the preservation of culture and heritage, a bridge between the past and the present.

We are engaged in this great effort to heal the wounds of the past.

At the same time, we are driven also by an economic imperative.

For all its historical, social and political meaning, land is fundamentally an economic resource.

And like all other economic resources in this country, it has historically been employed to serve the interests of a narrow section of society.

From the days of colonial conquest, the South African economy has been designed to underperform.

The country’s assets – its land, its minerals, its human resources, its enterprises – have been owned, controlled and managed in a way that has prevented the extraction of their full value.

For as long as ownership, control and management are concentrated in the hands of few – and serve the interests of a few – South Africa will not be able to realise the potential of its economic assets.

By restricting the ownership of land to the white and the wealthy, and by excluding the black and poor majority, the apartheid regime ensured that one the country’s most valuable economic resources would be severely under-utilised. To have placed 87% of the land into ownership hands of a white minority and only 13% being made available to the black majority was a clear act that was meant to stunt the economic prospects of the country.

Perhaps Acemoglu, Gelb & Robinson describe it much more clearly when they say “For over a century, South African society was based on an economic and political model where whites structured institutions in order to repress blacks and extract resources from them. In the process, they created probably the most unequal society in the world. The extraction of rents from black people created a massive misallocation of resources.

These were not just human, but also physical. Blacks had no access to land or capital and the Colour Bar blocked them from upward social mobility and removed the incentives to invest in human capital.”

As a consequence, the South African economy has been stunted and its development held back over centuries.

A central part of our historic responsibility here is to unlock the economic and social potential of this vital national resource.

When you return land to those who were forcibly dispossessed of their land, you unlock its economic value. This will give practical effect to what the African National Congress has committed itself to – radical socio-economic transformation.

When you secure the rights of labour tenants to the land which they have occupied for generations, you unlock its economic value.

When you provide support, training and finance to emerging farmers, you unlock the economic value of that land.

When you allocate land close to urban centres for housing for the poor, and when you provide our people with serviced sites and the title deeds to their homes, you unlock the economic value of that land.

As you do so, you also unlock the economic potential of all our people. The derivative that will flow from this will be increased investment, job creation and economic growth.

We launch

Comrades and friends,

This workshop has been convened as a consequence of the resolution we took at the 54th National Conference in December to “pursue with greater determination our programme of land reform and rural development”.

At that Conference, we took the historic decision that expropriation of land without compensation should be among the key mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution.

This workshop needs to provide direction on how we use this mechanism most effectively to advance land reform, promote agricultural production, reduce poverty, create employment and enhance food security.

This requires a critical appraisal of our land reform programme to date.

It requires that we reflect critically and honestly on the impact of the transformative legislation that we have enacted and the progressive programmes that we have implemented over the last 24 years.

We must measure the progress we have made against the tasks we set ourselves in the Ready to Govern document, where we said:

“Our policies must provide access to land both as a productive resource and to ensure that all our citizens have a secure place to live. The crippling impact of past policies demands the urgent implementation of a national programme of land reform and redistribution. At the same time, we must take account of the need to maintain food supplies and to provide equitable and orderly procedures so as to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.”

The report of the High Level Panel chaired by Cde Kgalema Motlanthe has done impressive work in identifying some of the key challenges in the implementation of our policies.

It is critical that we attend to the problems that the Panel has identified and that have emerged from the deliberations at our 54th National Conference and elsewhere.

We need to acknowledge that the lack of progress in land reform can be attributed to a great extent to weaknesses in the institutions responsible for effecting our polices, to inconsistencies in legislation, to misguided interventions and to a misallocation of resources.

In its report, the High Level Panel refers, for example, to a “total systems failure” that has prevented effective implementation of legislation to protect the rights of farm dwellers.

This workshop must discuss if that characterisation is correct, and if it is, what we are going to do about it.

We need to pay attention to other challenges, such as corruption and mismanagement, dysfunctional community property associations, the ongoing evictions of labour tenants, and the inadequacy of support to beneficiaries of land redistribution.

Our responsibility is to ensure that we have a comprehensive, coherent and sustainable programme for land reform, agrarian reform and spatial inequality.

It means that we need to explore all options for meaningful restitution, redistribution and tenure reform.

There is no one single solution to the land question.

It requires a range of interventions, addressing a diversity of needs, across a wide range of circumstances, yet all held together by an overarching framework for land reform.

We need to study the experiences of other countries that have used land reform effectively to address poverty and inequality.

We must assess our own innovative efforts, such as the 50/50 model, where established farmers enter into a joint venture with farm workers.

We must explore the approach suggested by some large landowners, such as forestry companies, that have said that they would gladly give land away if agreements can be reached on the extraction and utilisation of the resources the land produces.

Critically, we must give attention to the support that needs to be provided to beneficiaries of land redistribution.

We must develop clear programmes for the provision of financing, training, market access, irrigation, seeds, fertilizer and equipment that contribute to the sustainability of emerging agricultural enterprises.

Comrades,

The decision of the 54th National Conference to use expropriation without compensation as a mechanism for land reform has ignited a vibrant and exciting debate within society.

As we have said before, this debate presents an opportunity for a new, reinvigorated drive for meaningful and sustainable land reform.

It is also an opportunity to assert the transformational intent of our Constitution and to recognise that the property clause in the Bill of Rights is a mandate for radical transformation.

As we said in the National Assembly two months ago:

“The property clause was never constructed for the purpose of retaining existing property relations. It is a transformative instrument, constructed to facilitate the lawful transfer of land and property to South Africans who had been deprived of land through colonial and apartheid policies.

“It is our collective responsibility to use these provisions of the Constitution more effectively and more directly to drive land reform with greater urgency and purpose.”

We have been given an historic opportunity to resolve, once and for all, the land question in South Africa.

Let us seize this moment.

Let us shoulder this responsibility.

Let us work together to ensure that within the space of a generation, we will be able to declare as Sol Plaatje said that the South African native is no longer and never will be a pariah in the land of their birth.

And perhaps Alfred Taiaiake poignant statement puts it well.

“The voices of our ancestors still call out to us and their wisdom still flows through our veins. We just need to start listening to them: It’s all about the land”.

It is at this workshop that we should heed the voices of our ancestors.

I thank you.