Choose people over chiefs

The ANC-led government must not be held to ransom by traditional leaders acting as “village tinpot dictators” and lay claim to land that doesn’t even belong to them.

This warning shot was fired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe at the ANC’s land summit in Boksburg yesterday. He said any signs of the governing party being strong-armed by traditional leaders will come back to haunt it at the polls.

There had been resistance from traditional leaders to transfer land to the state for redistribution and the spotlight had mainly been on the Ingonyama Trust, the sole trustee of which is King Goodwill Zwelithini who had vowed to fight to the bitter end to protect the land controlled by the trust.

But Motlanthe, who led a panel looking at reviewing some of the country’s old policies, pulled no punches as he addressed the Land Summit convened amid a contentious debate on the ANC policy adopted at Nasrec to expropriate land without compensation.

“People in the villages who have lived there for generations now have to pay the Ingonyama Trust board more than a R1 000 and it escalates annually by 10%.

“I have a sample of that lease agreement. It is an ordinary lease that you sign with any landlord anywhere. But this is what people in the rural areas are subjected to.

“They complain about the officials from the department, they complain about traditional leaders and their coming out was very courageous because even as they were making their input there were people there trying to intimidate them and so on,’’ he said.

“I think the approach which confronts us as the ANC must really be to understand that the ANC enjoys support from the people and not from traditional leaders.

“Some traditional leaders support the ANC, but the majority of them are acting as village tinpot dictators to the people there. The people had high hopes the ANC would liberate them from all these confines of the homeland systems, but clearly now we are the ones who are saying the land must go to traditional leaders and not the people.

“I’m stressing this point because we need to understand what we are doing. We need to be clear on how these people in the rural areas will view this organisation and its government going forward.”

Deep frustrations

Former president Jacob Zuma arrived late and pulled up a chair next to journalists. Rural Development Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Zuma whispered to each other as Motlanthe spoke.

Motlanthe described communal areas in former homelands as a “minefield” because the minister of rural development and land reform had failed to uphold the act and had, in practice, ceded his power over communal land to traditional leaders.

This meant that mining deals signed with traditional leaders as opposed to the minister were legally precarious.

“Those mining deals can be overturned by the courts and so on; it is not clear why the minister ceded his authority to traditional leaders in this regard.”

Motlanthe pointed out that the government had failed to protect farm workers and labour tenants. This despite the existence of the Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Act of 1996, which created rights for labour tenants to have ownership of the land which their families had occupied on white farms for generations.

He said tens of thousands of labour tenants, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, lodged claims only to discover after years of waiting that the department had decided not to process their claims.

This, he said, had led to deep frustrations with a number of cases which were yet to be resolved.

Motlanthe said the current draft of the Communal Land Tenure Bill is similar in that it seeks to transfer ownership of communal land to traditional institutions as opposed to people who occupy and use the land.

He said it would inevitably face legal and political challenges from ordinary people and the people who flock to the cities because they have no other livelihood options and also face problems of tenure insecurity and threatened eviction.

"It was not stolen, you were sleeping"

One of the speakers invited by the ANC, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said the fact that the land was stolen is not a fact. “It was not stolen, you were sleeping.”

Ngcukaitobi said the ANC’s assertion that the idea of expropriation without compensation was their brainchild was not true. “I would like to disappoint the ANC. Expropriation without compensation was not introduced by the ANC. It’s always been part of South Africa’s common law,” he said referring to a case he had stumbled on dating back to 1915, which stated that since 1913 the principle of expropriating land without compensation existed. However, it required legislation to state explicitly that its intention was to expropriate property without compensation.

“What we know is that over this period of more than 80 years of South African law, the legislature was always entitled to pass laws to enable the state to expropriate land without compensation. There was a presumption against it but the law remained in position. So this is not something new. It’s something that is well established within the South African jurisprudential framework.”

Ngcukaitobi went through different legislation options, saying he did not recommend keeping the status quo. “It’s an option but it’s untenable. What’s necessary is urgent legislation.”

He spoke about the irony of black people hearing government say it would give them land, while being evicted by that very same government.

Ngcukaitobi shifted focus to facts about land ownership outlined in the recent land audit which showed that from what is registered in the Registrar of Deeds, about 90% is owned by individuals, companies and trusts.

He said this was crucial as context because if the figures were right, 80% of the land in South Africa was in private hands and 12% was state controlled.

“So whatever anyone wants to say about land, the inevitable fact is they never address the land prices by releasing state-owned land. We have to target privately owned land. That’s the first premise we have to accept.

“The fact is that men overwhelmingly own the land yet the Freedom Charter says the land belongs to those who work it. The people who work the land are women. The facts show us it’s private land, it’s white-owned and it’s male-owned. So any expansive land discussion should factor in that context.”

The summit continues today.

TALK TO US

Should traditional leaders be entitled to lay claim to land that does not even belong to them? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword LAND and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50