Stellenbosch wine farm land grab shows people are not waiting for reform

As the ANC promises to move forward with its plans to rework land expropriation without compensation into the Constitution, the party’s supporters are tired of waiting, and are taking things into their own hands.

A new exposé by the New York Times has highlighted how farm land in Stellenbosch has been occupied by squatters who are tired of waiting around for the national government to deliver on its land promises.

Between March and August 2018, land belonging to a wine farm owner near Kayamandi, was occupied by the squatters and a new informal settlement was erected.

According to the paper, while the courts have ordered that the squatters vacate the land, the informal settlement remains. Those who led the charge to occupy the land said it was done out of desperation and frustration with the slow rate of land reform.

The municipality is negotiating to purchase the land from the owner, Stefan Smit, and has reportedly already moved to supply water and toilet facilities to the area.

Land grabs

Illegal land occupations have previously been championed and encouraged by the EFF in South Africa, with the party’s leaders leveraging public anger.

A year ago, in March 2018, at least five areas across Gauteng were subject to land grabs led by the EFF and its supporters.

The EFF’s populist stance on taking back the land has proved successful for the party, which has seen its support base grow significantly between elections, and has spurred the ANC to adopt a similar approach – pushing the party to change South Africa’s constitution (with the EFF’s support).

While the ANC fights for the right to take land from owners without paying them for it, it still maintains that occupation of private land is illegal and will be met with the full force of the law.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also been left trying to balance two contradictory messages – that the South African government wants to take land, but also secure property rights.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum at the start of 2019, Ramaphosa said that the government will not allow land redistribution laws to impact food security or the economy – nor will it allow for land grabs to happen in the country.

However, as the Stellenbosch case shows, irrespective of what the government says, the people who are desperate for the land are not prepared to wait.

“We see that land, we must take that land,” an occupier told the NYT.

Where we are with land reform

The National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in December approved a committee report that recommends that section 25 of the constitution, which protects property rights, should be amended.

Another parliamentary committee was set up on 12 February to draft a bill needed to make the changes and elected ANC MP Thoko Didiza, who served as agriculture minister from 1999 to 2006, as its chairwoman.

The National Assembly, which adjourns from 22 March until after national elections on 8 May, will on 19 March debate whether her committee should continue its work until the day before the vote, or whether the new parliament should revive the process.

Given that section 25 is part of the Bill of Rights of the constitution, two-thirds of lawmakers in the 400-seat National Assembly and six of the nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces will need to approve the change.

Land reform and the elections

All of South Africa’s major political parties are aware of the importance of land reform in South Africa, and have made the land issue a fundamental topic in their campaigns. This is what the ANC, EFF and DA say they will do to address this problem:

  • ANC: The ANC is leading land expropriation without compensation, and that land seizures should be permitted to address racially skewed ownership patterns. Food security and economic development won’t be undermined by land seizures, the party says.
  • DA: The DA wants the constitution left unchanged. The party says it will protect property rights, while instituting a land-reform program that increases access to ownership, creates jobs and grows the economy.
  • EFF: The EFF wants all land to be placed under state custodianship and equitably redistributed along demographically representative racial lines. Foreigners should be barred from owning land in South Africa, while rentals on all residential property should be scrapped.
  • IFP: The IFP supports land expropriation without compensation. It says it will allocate all unused state land to assist the poor, with specific support for modern agricultural initiatives. It also wants training infrastructure for agriculture, including introducing agricultural science at a school level.

Read: South Africa’s new land expropriation changes – here’s what is coming next

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Stellenbosch wine farm land grab shows people are not waiting for reform