Speech by Hon Jerry Thibedi during the National Assembly debate on the Report of Adhoc Committee to Exercise Co-Ordinated Oversight on the legacy of the Native Land Act

28 October 2013

Topic: Progress Made by Government in Addressing the Legacy of the Land Dispossession of the Colonial and Apartheid Regimes

Honourable Speaker
Honourable Deputy President
Honourable Members
Guests in the Gallery

All anti-colonial struggles are, at the core about two things: repossession of land usurped through force or deceit; and, restoring the centrality of indigenous culture. That is why the colonialists targeted land to subdue conquered populations, in order to turn them into vassals and slaves. At the outset I make the submission that landlessness does not only impair the section 10 constitutional right to human dignity but perpetuates poverty, and inequality.

Forced removal of peoples from their ancestral land is overtly a strategy that serves an idealistic colonial agenda of undermining cultures and customs of the colonised. However I contend that the use of race as a basis for forceful land dispossession is phenomenon not essence. Essence I dare say is divorcing the producer from production means to convert him into a proletarian whose labour power is at the disposal of the malicious usurper for unfettered exploitation to realise unlimited profit maximisation. The truth of the matter is that land dispossession is never a matter of pure sentiment impelled by a sense of racial supremacy though ostensibly it could manifest itself beneath such cloak or identity.

Honourable Members land restitution’s purpose is to return victims of dispossession to the original position prior the unlawful disturbance of their occupation. In other words the purpose is not merely restoring ownership of land to victims of dispossession but reunification of the producer with means of production. Allow me to illustrate the point about returning the victim to the original position, that of producer by recalling with you the conditions that obtained on the eve of the signing of the Natives Land Act 27 of 1913 by Lord Gladstone on the 16 June and its promulgation on the 19 June 1913.

Circumstances Preceding the Act

Honourable Speaker

Wide-scale dispossession of land from the indigenous communities of South Africa was not a phenomenon which only began in 1913. The forcible dispossession which went together with colonial conquest had already had a massive impact on the distribution of the African population. Taxes forced people to seek wage-paying labour in the towns and cities.

Peasant producers lost land when unable to manage their debt.

This notwithstanding there was a category of close-on a million African tenant farmers who lived and farmed on white-owned land. They did so either as ordinary or rent-paying tenants or as share croppers paying half of their crop as rental, or as labour tenants making the labour of family members available for part of the year in return for the use of land for cattle and cultivation. Although they were pejoratively referred to as squatters, in many ways they were prosperous farmers.

Honourable Speaker

A highly misleading statistic was presented to Parliament by the Minister of Lands exaggerating the scale of purchase of land by Africans. Complaints were made by MPs about the ‘squatters’ doing their own farming and being unwilling to provide labour to white farmers, who were as a result forced to use their own children to work on the farms. This led to the introduction at short notice to MPs and no notice to the African population, of the Natives Land Bill by the Minister of Native Affairs, JW Sauer.

It is therefore not surprising that, days before signing of the Act, some white farm owners had already begun to enforce the grim choice posed by the Act on African tenants renting land from them. They said to the African tenants; ‘either you forgo your cattle (for most the store of lifetime’s savings) and your crop farming and work for me as my labourer or you leave!’

The ANC and Land Restitution

Honourable Speaker

Racial discrimination conjoined with economic exclusion inexorably created conditions for the birth of its nemesis, its grave diggers. On the 8th January 1912 the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed in Mangaung. The National Executive Committee of SANNC led by President John Langalibalele Dube appointed a delegation to travel to Britain to lobby the Imperial Government to use its powers as the colonial government and perceived protector of rights of the ‘native’ population, to bring about the repeal of the Act.

However the representations to the Imperial Government fell on deaf ears. Sol Plaatjie, the then Secretary-General of SANNC records that the Secretary of state ‘took notes on nothing’.

Honourable Members it is trite that SANNC in 1923 became the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC has always understood that land restitution is inalienable to agrarian transformation as epitomised in the declaratory words of the Freedom Charter: ‘the land shall be shared among those who work it!’ Land reform to the ANC signifies more than compensation of victims, which according to section 25 of the Constitution of the RSA, equitable redress may in lieu of restitution of property be awarded to victims; in other words those who suffered land dispossession may instead of land be awarded its financial equivalent.

Honourable Speaker

The 52nd National Conference of the ANC resolved to amongst others embark on an integrated programme of rural development, land reform and agrarian change based on amongst others ‘fundamental changes in the patterns of land ownership through the redistribution of 30% of agricultural land before 2014. This must include comprehensive support programmes with proper monitoring mechanisms to ensure sustainable improvements in livelihoods for the rural poor, farm workers, farm-dwellers and small farmers, especially women’. Conference further resolved: ‘where necessary, expropriate property in the public interest or for public purpose in accordance with the Constitution to achieve equity, redress, social justice and sustainable development’.

In the 2009 Manifesto the ANC commits to among others ‘intensify the land reform programme to ensure that more land is in the hands of the rural poor and provide them with technical skills and financial resources to productively use the land to create sustainable livelihoods and decent work in rural areas. Further, to ensure a much stronger link between land and agrarian reform programmes and water resource allocation’.

The ANC regards rural development as a pillar of struggle against unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is also critical that correcting the injustices of the past ensures that women increasingly become beneficiaries and decision-makers in respect of strategies to overcome poverty in rural areas.

Honourable Speaker

Having acknowledged the challenges that attend land reform especially in relation to land acquisition through the willing buyer willing seller principle, the ANC resolved in its 53rd National Conference to ‘replace willing buyer willing seller with the “just and equitable” principle in the Constitution immediately where the state is acquiring land for land reform purposes’.

Therefore since the promulgation and repeal of the Natives land Act, the ANC has unceasingly undertaken to reverse dispossession of masses of South Africans. It has sought to reverse the grim choice imposed on African people as epitomised by the greed laced words of the then white farm owners: ‘either you forgo your cattle and your crop farming and work for me as my labourer or leave!’ In essence the ANC is relentless and resolute its intention to reunite the producer with the means of production.

The ANC Government and Reversal of the Legacy of Land Dispossession

Honourable Speaker

Our oversight visits testify beyond reasonable doubt that our Government has made strides to ensure access to land by our people. The beneficiaries appreciated being awarded property as opposed to financial compensation. The expressed conviction by-and-large by beneficiaries is that land is a resource for the benefit of the current generation and posterity (i.e. future generations), unlike money which is fungible (i.e. perishable) and ephemeral (i.e. short-lived).

Almost all 27 projects visited reported creation of job opportunities, although at varying degrees. However competitive pressures confronting the agricultural enterprises and disputes within the legal entities put job security at risk. Yet, some Communal Property Associations (CPA) and trusts visited were investing their profits in public goods.

Of note is the Makuleke CPA located in the Vhembe District which created over 200 jobs for CPA members. The CPA invested profits in public goods such as schools. Another example is the KwaCele CPA in Ilembe District which created jobs for 200 workers and formed a bursary scheme to fund students who took courses in Agriculture.

Honourable Speaker

The Commission on Restitution of Land Rights reported that over 97 per cent of just less than eighty thousand (80 000) land claims lodged by 1998 had been settled. The settled land claims have benefitted about three hundred and seventy thousand (370 000) households, with a total of about one hundred and thirty five thousand (135 000) being female headed households.

However the costs of restitution have been prohibitive due to the cost of land acquisition. Since the inception of restitution in 1995, the state has paid over R15 billion for land purchases and R7, 5 billion in financial compensation. About 69 000 of the land claimants were awarded financial compensation instead of restoration of land. This is mainly due to the urban nature of land claims which rendered it not feasible to restore original land.

Honourable Speaker

In the post-apartheid era, Parliament passed the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act of 1996 as a temporary measure for protection of certain rights to and interest in land. In 2004, Parliament passed the Communal Land Rights Act of 2004 which was declared unconstitutional after it was challenged by a group of communities. Cabinet published the Green Paper on Land Reform for public comment in August 2011. The policy proposes communal land ownership under communal tenure system with institutionalised use rights.

The overall vision of land reform process has been to redistribute 30 per cent of white-owned agricultural land by 2014. Government policy on land redistribution has evolved from delivery of land through the Settlement Land Acquisition Grant (SLAG) which targeted the poor households (i.e. those with incomes below R 1 500) to the Land redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) in 2001.

The LRAD was introduced to include all black South Africans not employed by the state but mostly with a portion of own contribution in the purchase of land. The current policy for land redistribution is the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy (PLAS). The PLAS mechanism involves state purchase of privately owned land and leasing it to potential emerging black farmers and focusses primarily on creation of black commercial farmers.

Honourable Speaker

Some of the objects of the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act 16 of 2013 are as per section 3 of the Act: ‘to ensure that the system of spatial planning and land use management promotes social and economic inclusion; and to redress the imbalances of the past’. In this regard the Act provides for a municipality to amend its land use scheme in the public interest or to advance the interest of, a disadvantaged community.

We are therefore pleased that the land audit that is underway is beginning to bear appropriate fruit. It is only when we know not only the true ownership each hector but purpose and use thereof that public interest shall be meaningfully served. Land should be used in the main not for recreational purposes as in prime land being used for golf courses. Land should be used to redress past imbalances and fight poverty and unemployment.


Our nation is today confronted with the legacy of the 1913 Natives Land Act and it is upon our shoulders to reverse it. We should do so now and not later, yes we have traversed the path but however more should be done to reunite the producer with the means of production. We can’t but fully agree with the beneficiaries of land restitution that land is an asset for our generation and posterity whereas money is fungible and ephemeral.

We bear the hopes of our forebears that land shall be shared amongst those who work it. Food security and economic development only can be secured when prime agricultural land is not only returned to the dispossessed but used according to its natural purpose. If we join hands together, hunger and dependence shall be but a faint distant memory.

Again we must underscore the point that land reform rings hollow if it is disembowelled of agrarian transformation.

I thank you,