Land reform hots-up in SADC ...as regional agric body calls for speedy reforms

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Ranga Mataire in Victoria Falls

The Southern African Confederation of Agriculture Unions (SACAU) has called for the speedy implementation of land reform before the issue gets out hand and destabilises economic growth in the region.

SACAU’s call follows initiatives by the South African government to introduce a motion in parliament calling for the expropriation of land without compensation after the dismal failure of the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has in the past reiterated that the ruling ANC party would not back down its land reform resolutions.

Speaking on the side-lines of a three-day regional agriculture indaba in Victoria Falls, SACAU president Dr Theo de Jager said the land issue in Southern Africa was an emotive issue that could no longer be delayed or postponed.

“We want to get to a situation where SADC does not become the battlefield of land discussions but as an example of how the land issue can be resolved. However, we will not impose any prescriptions to governments in terms of the land tenure that should be put in place,” said Dr de Jager.

Dr de Jager said the big issue in South Africa and Namibia was to have a candid conversation between the white land owners and aspiring farmers without the issue turning into an explosive election campaign issue.

He said it was unfortunate that the land debate in South Africa was being undertaken in the run-up to elections. Dr de Jager said the issue at the centre of the debate was whether land could be expropriated without compensation.

“Let me tell you, today the debate between white farmers and black farmers, those who gained land and those who lost it, rich farmers and poor farmers is much more healthier in Zimbabwe than anywhere else in the region. I have used this as an example all over the world. In Namibia, the biggest stability at this stage is managing land reform, the polarisation between the farmers is at its biggest. Somehow, it seems we need some kind of crisis to be on the same page,” Dr de Jager said.

He said there was maturity in the debate in Zimbabwe and unity about agriculture could grow the economy. Dr de Jager said Zimbabwe has shed-off all fancy things about land and was now more focused in making sure that the land becomes productive.

He said SACAU’s position was that the distribution of land in some member countries was uneven and it needed to be redistributed but the process has to be done in an orderly manner.

“This region is very small and if Zimbabwe or South Africa sneezes, the whole region catches the bug. The big issue is to be able to look at each other in the eye and come to a consensus of how best we can address this issue,” said Dr de Jager.

In a separate interview, president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa), Dr Vuyo Mahlati, emphasised the need for urgent land reform in her country to address pressing inequality and gender issues.

She said land reform was slow in her country and there was a need for the government to address the issue of how the issue could be dealt with in an orderly fashion.

“The big issue is how we find a mechanism that will address the imbalances and slow progress as far as land reform is concerned. I don’t think anyone is saying it won’t happen but what everybody is getting nervous about is how are we to govern it in a way that is orderly. Otherwise, there is no turning back as far as addressing the land reform in South Africa,” said Dr Mahlati.

He said different political and interest groups were putting forward various suggestions on how the land issue could be resolved and Afasa was at the forefront in advocating for land reform to address historical injustices.  

“The good thing about being in discussion like this is that we share and exchange views. But we believe that the responsibility at the higher level is that there should not be any destabilisation of the economy. So it is something that we hope it will not get us to that level and similarly within the Namibian environment as well,” Dr Mahlati said.

Vice president of the Agricultural Council of Tanzania, Dr Sinare Sinare, cautioned against taking decisions on impulse in dealing with the issue of land reform. He said Tanzania was still feeling the after effects of the country’s land reform undertaken way back in 1967.

“We encourage dialogue. This is a very emotive issue.”

A total of 13 countries attended the two-day regional farmer’s conference, which ran under the theme: “Trade As Driver for Agricultural Transformation”. The indaba, which began on 14 May, ended on Wednesday last week.

A number of issues were discussed at the conference, including trade arrangements and practices, key elements in pursuing trade-driven agricultural transformation agenda and the need to create opportunities from Southern African farmers to understand rules and regulations within which trade happens at global, continental and regional level as in between countries.

 

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