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Land reform can boost SA jobs growth, if done correctly – Marius Oosthuizen

CAPE TOWN — South Africa is at a crossroads when it comes to land reform, business science lecturer Marius Oosthuizen suggests – and how we jointly negotiate this intersection will either benefit most parties or lead to a painful, no-win Zimbabwe-type outcome. Calling for reason and cool heads, given the enormity of what’s at stake, his plan seems almost like a mini-Codesa on the nuts and bolts of land reform, with all parties seeking mutual ground to forge a way ahead. Thinking creatively about what’s needed, he sees it as an opportunity for job creation, starting with putting the facts on the table. Who owns the land, what is it being used for and what is its role in the economy? Unless we manage this narrative concurrently with the technical problems, a misinformed populism that cares little for the facts or pragmatics will over-run the entire shebang. It sounds good on paper. Perhaps those in possession need a solid trust-building gesture to get the ball rolling, especially towards those they seem to regard as hell-bent on their financial demise. This is as big as FW de Klerk sacrificing white rule for peace. There must surely be some lessons from history? – Chris Bateman

Land Grab. More brilliant cartoon work available at www.zapiro.com.

By Marius Oosthuizen*

If land reform in South Africa is mismanaged, it can break the country. If handled well, through a thoughtful and strategic approach, land reform can be a flywheel to create the youth jobs South Africa so desperately needs.

The question is; “how can land reform be approached in a way that would be productive, and lead to a job-creating outcome for country?” The three-phased approach recommended below attempts to do so.

Firstly, let’s agree that land reform must happen, and it must be done quickly. The longer we delay the process, the more emotive the issues and the more difficult it will be to handle land reform rationally and productively. Having said that, a more robust diagnosis is required, particularly of; i) “who owns the land?”, ii) what is the land used for?” and (iii) “the role of land in the economy?” and lastly, what the (iv) emerging narrative is in relation to land and the aforementioned aspects. Unless we manage the narrative alongside the technical problem, we will find ourselves overrun by a misinformed populism that does not care for facts and pragmatism.

While this phase of diagnosis is ongoing, a process of negotiation (3) needs to be initiated, focussed on issues of; (v) expropriation, (vi) development, (vii) further commercialisation of the sector related to land and the prospect of (viii) job creation in relation to land reform.

Marius Oosthuizen

With phase 1 and 3 underway, a targeted approach of co-creation is needed to (2) address issues of; (a) inclusive agriculture, (b) managing the existing financialisation of land, (c) capacity development, particularly in agriculture and agro-processing, and (e) state-led supply chain development in the sectors identified in relation to land.

Through sectoral dialogue, planning and coordination, with a view to simultaneously achieve land reform and achieve market development for job-creating growth, the following key stakeholders need to be brought together; commercial farmers and representative organisations, AgriSA, the departments of Rural Development and Land Reform, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the commercial and Land banks, and the towns and cities who manage land rights in peri-urban areas.

Once again South Africa faces an issue in relation to which leadership desperately is needed. In the vacuum of leadership that has surrounded land reform, populist voices, anarchists and historical revisionists have flourished. Now is the time for calm, considered action on land reform. The alternative to expropriation without compensation is not no reform, the alternative is a job-creating reform of the entire land and agriculture system of South Africa, where established farmers and emerging ones partner for a shared future of intertwined interests. For this to happen, we need government to show leadership, and for the myriad networks and organisations that represent the parties, to come to the tame willing to work, and offer substantive trade-offs in the public interest. The alternative is a Zimbabwe-nightmare which nobody wants.

  • Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics. He oversees the Future of Business in SA project which uses strategic foresight and scenario planning to explore the future of South Africa. 
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