Making Sense of the EFF's Land Policy

By Stephen Greenberg · 5 Feb 2015

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Picture: Julius Malema, Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, courtesy You Tube
Picture: Julius Malema, Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, courtesy You Tube

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has identified “expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use” as one of the party’s “seven non-negotiable cardinal pillars for economic freedom in our lifetime”.

To realise this goal, the EFF’s national assembly held in December 2014 passed resolutions on land. The resolutions are very schematic, with only seven points, although they do provide some indication of the EFF’s ideas on land and agricultural support.

Nationalisation

The EFF proposes nationalisation of all land without compensation. This will apply to black and white alike, with nationalised land to be leased back to users for a maximum of 25 years on the basis of a land-use licence. The licence may be renewed for another 25 years if the land is being used as planned for in the application. Conversely, the state has the right to revoke the licence and reallocate the land for ‘public purposes’ and also to revoke any licence if land is not being used for the purpose it was applied for.

The 25-year timeframe is redundant as part of the EFF’s policy, since the state will essentially have the right to revoke the licence if and when it chooses. The ‘public purpose’ is notoriously difficult to define in any objective way and powerful actors will impose their definitions, potentially at the expense of weaker actors. This produces tenure insecurity.

For the dispossessed majority, the states’ whims may replace those of the private landowner. Perhaps it is true that the state will act more favourably towards the dispossessed, but this is in no way guaranteed. For example, state authority to reallocate customary village lands for long-term lease and even outright ownership to large-scale private commercial interests is a growing feature of neo-liberal land policies elsewhere in Africa. Here we are witnessing the seemingly contradictory situation of state ownership of land facilitating large-scale dispossession of inhabitants.

Beyond this, there is not enough detail in the proposals on land. For example, blanket nationalisation would include all urban and residential land. Is this intended?

Including residential land will result in unnecessary tenure insecurity. Land nationalisation can certainly play a role in making land immediately available for redistribution. But the extension of residential land to give secure tenure to the millions currently without, does not require making others insecure.

On the other hand, if the policy is targeted specifically at productive land, the EFF will need to do more detailed work on how it will facilitate on-going investment in fixed assets, infrastructure and natural resources. It is unrealistic – and undesirable too – to expect the state to be responsible for all investment. There are also complex questions about the relationship between the financial system and land as an important collateral base for the extension of credit. Without saying there are no answers or possibilities, the EFF needs to consider these questions and deepen its proposals about how a nationalised system might work and how the party might manage the ripples of destabilisation throughout the economy and society such an approach will generate.

Outside of the resolutions, what is the relationship between the EFF’s ‘informal’ policy of supporting land occupations and the nationalisation framework? Will those who are encouraged to occupy land later apply to the state for a land use licence to remain there?

It may be that nationalisation can secure the land won by occupations from below. It would be interesting to see what would happen if nationalised land should be occupied under an EFF government, or how the party would deal with the contradictions arising from occupations on land where a use license was already granted. In both cases, of course, the EFF might elect to transfer “use licences” to the occupiers in the public interest. But this would create other challenges.

In the first instance, it could destabilise longer-term state development plans including infrastructure and service delivery. In the second instance, it would undermine the tenure system as a whole because ultimately the guarantee of tenure rights is an effective authority protecting those rights.

Agricultural Support

Four resolutions focus on agricultural support and the statist orientation is in further evidence here.

First, the EFF says the state should provide subsidies, implements and extension services to help those who want to work the land do so productively. In principle this is correct, although there are questions about how subsidies would be targeted, e.g., whether these would be production subsidies to private individuals or subsidies for public infrastructure that benefits large numbers like water storage and reticulation, roads and market facilities.

There is some emphasis on market channels for small-scale farmers. Public procurement is proposed as one way of creating markets for farmers, although in one place the proposals call for “more than 50% of food” for hospitals, prisons and schools from small-scale farmers, and in another place “all the food bought by government” should come from small-scale farmers. The target is less important than the principle though, and public procurement is certainly a good place to start in developing and supporting small-scale agricultural production.

The EFF also proposes to “open packaging and retail opportunities for farmers”. A focus on transformation of the agro-food value chain is important, although the focus on opportunities in these activities for farmers is too narrow, since most informal retailing is not carried out by farmers but by hawkers, spaza shops and others who should receive support in their own right.

In deepening its policy approach, the EFF needs to evaluate existing government subsidy schemes and programmes for farmers. The recapitalisation programme, for example, is a big, existing government subsidy scheme for farmers, which has tended to benefit a relatively small layer of black producers. The value chain policy is not different to the ANC’s existing policies on downstream enterprise development, even though in practice the informal sector does not receive sufficient state support. What lessons do the EFF draw from these experiences? What would it do differently?

So far, so good on agricultural support, but what kind of agriculture is envisioned?

Sustainable Development?

The EFF’s resolutions make broad reference to ‘sustainable development’ as the objective of state ownership of land, but like ‘public purpose’ this can mean many things. The EFF makes no reference to environment or ecology apart from this most generic of statements. This becomes a concern once the resolutions hold up the Brazilian model of agriculture as an example to emulate.

The EFF argues, “…development of the food economy…can exceed Brazil’s”. But we should note that Brazil’s rise in the global agro-food system comes on the back of the occupation of the cerrado by large-scale commercial farmers, increasing landlessness and dislocation amongst the poor, and the adoption of large-scale industrial farming methods including the massive use of genetically modified (GM) crops and the accompanying pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, exclusive irrigation systems, large-scale mechanisation, etc. There is no discussion on the content of extension and again, this raises a concern that it could then take the form of inappropriate Green Revolution technologies that facilitate accumulation for some at the expense of others.

The EFF denotes the large-scale commercial food economy as being the backbone of ‘sustainable job creation’, even though economies of scale based on capital-intensive production mean a reduction in the workforce, not an expansion over time, as is evident both in South Africa and Brazil.

On land, the EFF is making new proposals, but more detail is required. On agricultural support, the content of the proposals is similar to the ANC’s policies, but the EFF needs to indicate how it will realise these better than the ANC has been able to so far.

A concern in both land and agricultural support proposals is that the EFF places the inhabitants of the country in a position of dependency on the state. This highlights a strong continuity with the politics of the ANC. An alternative might emphasise the role of the state in creating the grounds for collective, democratic economic activity beyond the state.

Dr. Greenberg is a freelance researcher with an interest in food systems, land, agriculture and rural development.

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Comments

MN
5 Feb

Excellent

"An alternative might emphasise the role of the state in creating the grounds for collective, democratic economic activity beyond the state."

This is a very logical and well argued piece. Excellent conclusion.

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Luxion
6 Feb

Retail Opportunities for "Black Farmers"

The EFF also proposes to ":open packaging and retail opportunities for farmers". A focus on transformation of the agro-food value chain is important, although the focus on opportunities in these activities for farmers is too narrow, since most informal retailing is not carried out by farmers but by hawkers, spaza shops and others who should receive support in their own right.

I'm bit puzzeled and intrigued by the point made here, however what I would like to understand, is EFF planning to create a retail platform for farmers in their own communities or are they suggesting that farmers should consider selling their produce also to the already existing market or what is the argument here? I'm asking this because according to the author here, he only mentioned black market as an opportunity for the emerging farmers.

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Stephen
6 Feb

Retail Opportunities for Black Farmers

It is not clear from the resolutions exactly what EFF means by this one line. However, they do seem to be talking about farmers extending into retail which, especially for new farmers, is probably not the best way to go. Food trade is better left to those who are already doing that - including the wide informal trading sector - who require their own dedicated support.

Daniel
7 Feb

Real Opportunities for "Black Farmers"

Any proposal, policy, idea, plan to entitle people in South Africa with material things where any form of government is concerned, should be preceded by the removal of the endemic corrupted government officials and politicians otherwise it simply won't work!