ANC calls for rethink on land redistribution

JOHANNESBURG – The African National Congress, under pressure over the amount of land still in white hands, called on Sunday for the scrapping of laws allowing farmers to set a price for land to be redistributed to black South Africans.

"The willing-buyer/willing seller clause has to be abandoned," said a statement after South Africa’s governing alliance held a summit to review economic policy driving the country forward after elections in 2009.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the current situation where 87% of the country’s land still resided in the hands of 50 000 white farmers, 14 years on from the end of whites-only apartheid rule, was "untenable".

"Land redistribution cannot depend on the willingness of those who own to sell," he said, adding there should be an "evaluation of land and expropriation thereof".

Land reform has become an increasingly contentious issue throughout Southern Africa since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe embarked on a programme that has seen about 4 000 white farmers lose their land since the turn of the decade.

While Mugabe’s policy has been blamed for much of Zimbabwe’s economic turmoil, many Africans applaud his self-styled drive to correct imbalances stemming from the colonial era.

The failure of current land distribution legislation led the ANC to try implement a law this year which would speed up land reform through expropriation.

However lawmakers shelved the controversial Bill in August citing "improper consultation" and some parts of it were said to be unconstitutional.

The South African Institute of Race Relations, in calling for the Bill to be withdrawn — which aimed to allow for expropriation in "the public interest" — said it was a "draconian measure" which would unsettle the property rights of all South Africans.

Parliament’s public works committee said it hoped the legislation would be reintroduced in the next Parliament.

While South Africa has promised to redistribute 30% of white-owned land by 2014, the government’s flailing land reform programme has so far seen only 4% of land, or four-million hectares, transferred to black South Africans since 1994.

Farmers have often been accused of asking unrealistic prices for their land while they in turn have bemoaned the levels of bureaucracy involved in the whole process.

Mantashe bemoaned the fact that land restitution always becomes a "racial issue" where white farmers need to be protected.

The ANC and its junior partners from the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) meanwhile said emergency measures were needed to bring relief to those struggling with rising food prices.

"There must also be a moratorium on the sale of government land for golf courses and game parks rather than agriculture."

Unemployment
The alliance also vowed to halve unemployment by creating five million jobs

"The creation of decent work for all South Africans, including the unemployed and underemployed, must be the primary focus of all economic policies, including industrial and trade policy," read an alliance statement which laid out the commitment to create five million jobs.

South Africa’s exact unemployment level is a matter of contention, with official estimates putting it at 23,1% of the population while unofficial estimates put it at nearly 40%.

Mantashe said the five million figure would cut the unemployment level by more than a half.

"It will take us below the halfway mark. We aim to halve unemployment by 2014," he said.

The summit proposed setting up a ministry of social security, increasing the age of child support grants from 14 to 18 year-olds, giving a flat benefit to unemployed workers, a basic income grant and free healthcare delivery as part of a national health insurance scheme.

While former president Thabo Mbeki oversaw an uninterrupted period of growth during his decade as president, critics say he did little to combat unemployment and the wealth gap actually increased during his time in office.

"There is the need for both continuity and change," said the statement, adding several economic policies required review.

The alliance partners also said government should "consider introducing requirements on investments to promote investment in social infrastructure, housing for the poor and job creation."

While South Africa has escaped relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis the alliance felt it would impact on growth prospects and developmental goals.

"The global crisis will also impact upon our persisting systemic points of vulnerability — currency volatility, the current account and inflationary pressures."

The summit discussed macroeconomic policy choices including inflation targeting, which has seen interest rates increased 10 times since June 2006 in a bid to curb inflation which surged to 13,7% in August, its highest level since 2002.

"Macroeconomic policy needs to support economic development and employment creation."

The summit resolutions are believed to be a key indicator of economic policy after a 2009 election which the ANC is expected to win, and comes ahead of Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s mid-term budget policy statement on Tuesday. – AFP