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Land reform in South Africa: The status quo cannot continue to exist

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“The ANC [African National Congress] needs to do something. I think there is noise and ignorance on both sides. The white landowners think they will have their land dispossessed, and the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters] and also elements within the ANC have racialised the issue. However, both sides must begin to understand that approaching land as a social and economic commodity, is the only way you are going to transform South African society. You cannot allow the status quo to continue to exist; it is simply creating a combustible chamber that is going to explode.”

This is the view of Dr Martin Rupiya, an academic with the Institute for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa.

Speaking to Political Analysis South Africa on Friday, 2 March, Rupiya explained that “the core issue is to create knowledge on both sides, to begin to understand that you can commodify land, and also acknowledge that any social transformation has to begin around land being placed at the heart of the economy, while also taking away the political nuances of white or black dispossession.”

Drawing parallels with South Africa’s northern neighbour he said, “If you look at Zimbabwe now, they are going backwards to old notions of the legitimate land reform process that was supposed to have happened. So in other words, Mugabe and his people used land for political purposes, just a fig leaf of land reform, they did not do substantive land reform.”

He also says he is a bit more optimistic than most about South Africa’s envisaged land reform process, saying “I see going forward that implementation will be under some rationale, it will be better than Zimbabwe, because Zimbabwe went too far to the left, and now they have gone too far to the right. Rupiya argues, “Ramaphosa [Cyril] has now been able to capture not only the debate, but also even a key element of the left. He now has labour and the SACP [South African Communist Party] back in the camp. I think you will have a rational approach, provided with a plan, and where they think is not possible they will not dare. And they will also provide resources, because the devil in the detail is that you have radicals on both the far right and far left, and you need to find some common ground.”

In the end, clarifies Rupiya, “the land issue cannot be ignored, a series of World Bank and IMF [International Monetary Fund] reports have urged the South African government to be serious about land reform. If you look at 1996, and what Mbeki [Thabo] and them were hoping to achieve, I think they have only achieved about 11%. Now those statistics are dangerous for any administration. And in my view, I think the last two reports from the World Bank were actually appealing and begging the South African government to undertake substantive land reform.”

Rupiya warns that “you cannot leave it [the land issue], because if you do, there will be some maverick like Malema [Julius] – though they have managed to take his clothes away from him – but you will get another maverick in future who will simply use this issue in a very explosive way.”

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