Womens Land Summit | Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study | 11 April 2019

Fairer sex tackles land reform with sophistication & intelligence.

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Women’s Land Summit April 2019 | Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study

Fairer sex tackles land reform with sophistication & intelligence

“Very often the argument is: we have inequality, give people land. It may make more sense to talk about a serious community-work programme, better basic education and notable housing improvements. Plus: giving thought to [farming] support systems and how we could set about ensuring that women count – have an equal voice and access?” – senior economist Dr Neva Seidman Makgetla

On 11 April 2019, a Women’s Land Summit was held at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study, aimed at entering into dialogue and generating solutions to land reform in South Africa. Although women’s voices have largely been silent in the land reform discourse to date, women have an important role to play in driving the social justice that positively impacts on all South Africans. By Vanessa Rogers.

Prof Thuli Madonsela, Trust Chair in Social Justice at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Law, addressed delegates in an opening speech on “The State of Land Restitution and Reform in South Africa”. She said that running a farm as a farm worker and running a farm as a business person are two very different things and this is where “we need to chat about collaboration and skills transfer”. Madonsela touched on the land that belonged to the state on the eve of democracy, which certain individuals reappropriated for themselves in an unjust fashion. “If we are able to find that land, maybe we should think about how to get hold of it. But, [it] might not be with the person who originally took it. The land might be in innocent hands.” Another complication Madonsela mentioned was that of the farmers who are now selling land to global companies “which is going to [further] complicate the restitution process. How do we reach out to these farmers? Do we want to live in this country, with this generation and the next generation? Because if we complicate the problem, we are complicating it for all of us.” Madonsela also spoke about the problem of the politicians who are saying that everyone must get land. “Is this realistic?” she suggested. “How many hectares of land do we have? And how many South Africans are there?” She concluded that the women in this country have shown that they can work across political divides. “We saw it in the Women’s Charter. We saw it in 1954. It is our turn to work together to heal the divisions of the past through the land reform process.”

Next on the podium was Mrs Bridgette Radebe, owner of Mmakau Mining (Pty) Ltd and chairperson of the Black Business Council, who spoke on “Land and Women: Meaning, History, Common Uses and Unity Building”. She mentioned how delighted she was to be able to embrace her own gender because, for 30 years in the mining industry, “its always been men.” Her decision to become SA’s first black mining entrepreneur was formed in the rural community where she grew up. “We owned the mineral rights which we leased to foreign investors for rural renewal projects (roads, services, bursaries, farming needs) that were supposed to come out of the royalty payments. But the royalty payments never happened. So we used to march. Peaceful marches, against the historic producer, who had the expertise. We didn’t. We weren’t allowed to mine. We weren’t allowed to own mines.”

Radebe therefore promised herself, at age six, that she would become a mining lawyer with the aim of empowering her community and other mining communities like it. But although she was accepted to go to Wits, she was not permitted to study there. “I ended up in Botswana, which was part of Edinburgh University’s education system and was accepted to study political science, economics and statistics. And that’s what I did.” She worked for numerous companies but finally had the chance to learn everything about how mines work when two Afrikaners walked into her office, wanting to lease her mineral rights. “I told them no, but I’m going to come with you and learn everything about how to build a mine. So off I went off in my mini skirts, driving my two-door BMW convertible, and before long I was winning tenders for this company – met my baie suiwe Afrikaans.”

At the time, the laws prevented women from working in production underground and Radebe had to defy legislation, but she was helped out by the National Union of Mineworkers and various mine managers. “This shows that we all have an obligation. Although I was prohibited from becoming a mining lawyer, I still pursued the vision of mining and became a mining entrepreneur. Everything happens for a reason,” she said.

When you mine, Radebe went on, you find people on farms – the historic economic consequences of what we inherited still prevails. “In these rural areas, women are still very involved in subsistence farming. The men have left them to become labour migrants. So when it comes to land distribution without compensation, we must look at how we handled the challenges in the mining industry. It is possible to undertake land redistribution without compensation in a highly sophisticated manner. Let us look at our story and what we did in the mining industry.”

The state became the custodian of the mineral rights, and companies had to apply for a prospecting permit to create a mine. After the passing into law of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Act, you had to have a BEE partner to receive the grant. “This BEE partner gave you the right to mine. And the right to own a mine, but not to own the resources. But the BEE partner had to pay for their shares. And why would you want to promote a black person without the technical expertise or intellectual capital to be a suitable shareholder? Just because you want your company to get a tick, so you can go and get another mine! [You must] train that person like we were trained. There must be an incentive for everybody.”

Radebe says we must make land distribution without compensation a win-win situation. “In the mining industry, we did not go and replace the white capital and the white skills. We partnered with them. We became shareholders. And we need to beneficiate and make use of the government-declared special tax havens. We need to have a joint committee of the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Mining and Minerals, Department of Finance, Department of Economic Development, and Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries where, together, when a farmer wants to create a farm, he collaborates with all the other people involved in that land. Because the road to economic freedom has not come yet, we need to continue being the catalysts for this change in whichever ways we can.”

At which point the MC and programme director, Karyn Maughan, a legal journalist and analyst at Tiso Blackstar Group, mentioned how much intellect, sensitivity, compassion and positivity there is in the business sphere towards land reform. It is easy to be overwhelmed and think nothing can change, but with people like Mrs Radebe, that change is possible.

The last of the morning’s keynote speakers was Dr Neva Seidman Makgetla, a senior economist at the Online Resource for Trade and Industrial Policy Research on South Africa (TIPS). She focused on the “Main policy debates around land reform,” identifying four main positions. These are:

  • expropriate without compensation;
  • invade land in urban areas to provide housing;
  • use land to establish black commercial farmers; and
  • employ land reform to improve living conditions for the marginalised.  

Seidman Makgetla said that, of course, economists think about these things very differently from their colleagues over in law. “Social justice? What’s that,” she laughed.

But even those very fixated on the figures cannot deny that South Africa is of course one of the most unequal countries in the world and, where there’s inequality, there will always be contestation about property rights, she added. “One of the most visible ways we can think about equality is that rich people just have more stuff. More land, more businesses, more opportunities. We’ve had democracy for 25 years but most black people are still disempowered economically, socially and politically. So at least if people have land, they will have some dignity, they will have some assets, they will have something of their own. They will have their own power. Expropriation is therefore seen as a remedy for social injustice. And the argument is that we need to disrupt the system, because we can’t work within it. But as you all know from Uber, disruptions have good and bad characteristics,” she said.

So even though inequality was created in large part by the expropriation of small African farmers, that’s not what maintains inequality today. There’s a whole lot of other things like access to education, access to jobs, access to living in urban areas. A whole range of things that are not about “Do you have land?”, said Seidman Makgetla.

The main risks she identified would revolve around food systems. “Most people in this country live in urban areas and depend on a few big commercial farmers to provide the food, like it or not. You disrupt that and food security becomes an issue. Also, if you get the property rights situation wrong, it will have an impact on investment. You can see this in the ratings agencies. So you could argue we need some kind of disruption to property rights to reassure investors, but it needs to happen in a way that does not result in too many costs.”

Some conclusions from Seidman Makgetla were as follows:

“Firstly, the state always shapes property rights. That is the role of the state in any economy, but particularly in a capitalist economy. The question is not if the state should shape property rights, but how the state should shape them; who should benefit; and how we can make the changes that are needed to bring about a more equitable society. But also, will women always lose because of the way the system works? Women will lose out unless we define explicitly what we have to do to make sure they benefit. And do people want ownership of assets as an end in itself? Or is it supposed to be about the land generating an income. Sometimes, just having your own land may be important. Even if you can’t use it for anything.

“Second thing is: should we try and disrupt this hegemony that devalues the experience of 85 percent of the population? If that’s your standpoint, you may believe we need to do highly disruptive things to get there. On the other hand, we want to maintain our production systems. So we’re trying to fix this car while it’s running – which is notoriously difficult. Or: you could just blow it up and start over. Do it from the top down, design the programmes, carry them out. Everybody would benefit and the service delivery paradigm, that government must deliver, would need to be strongly enforced.

“Should we prioritise setting up small black businesses, or rather jobs and livelihoods for the poor? Obviously, you can do some of both. But there’s a contradiction here given that government capacity, in particular, is limited and land volumes are fixed. So whose problem are we talking about? And where do women fit in? Very often the argument is: we have inequality, give people land. It may make more sense to talk about a serious community-work programme, better basic education and notable housing improvements. Plus: giving thought to the [farming] support systems and how we could set about ensuring that women count – have an equal voice and access?

“Unfortunately, whenever there’s a big social cost, unless government intervenes, poor people end up bearing the brunt and women tend to get the worst of it. Because, if you don’t have power its hard to protect yourself. But you can’t retreat and say we won’t make any changes. You can’t sustain a society as unequal as this without something falling apart,” she concluded.

Integrity specialist and owner of corporate training company Hidden Dimensions, Charissa Bloomberg, who will be collaborating with Prof Thuli Madonsela to host South Africa’s first-ever Integrity Forum later on this year, agrees that the current holding pattern can’t be sustained. “If government could take note of the outcome of these discussions and allow these high-level women to suggest a sophisticated strategy so that women benefit out of any future land reform initiatives, it will be for the good of everyone – specifically South Africa’s future generation whom they are often raising single-handedly,” she enthused.

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