Each year on 21 March, we commemorate Human Rights Day, remembering the sacrifices made for our country’s democracy and our rights. Land ownership and rights are integral to these rights. In the face of increasing levels of poverty, land ownership could offer a much-needed reprieve to millions of people, writes Peter Setou, the chief executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund.
Land ownership proves to be a viable asset that can enhance entrepreneurship, a way to be included in the mainstream economy, and a source of food and income for millions of landless people.
Furthermore, land rights recognise the dignity of a people whose humanity and sense of self-worth were systematically denied by centuries of colonialism and decades of institutional racism.
Research has drawn a link between poverty alleviation and access to land. According to the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), policies that focus on food security and creating viable pathways to prosperity for the rural poor can significantly reduce poverty levels. A land reform programme that improves the means of food production, enhances skills, generates value, and creates employment would be especially beneficial.
According to a United Nations (UN) report: “Land is a critical asset, especially for the rural poor, because it provides a means of livelihood through the production and sale of crops and other products …Those without property rights generally lack the incentive or even the authority to make investments in the land where they live or farm that might lead to higher returns.
Poverty linked to landlessness
“In many cases, land can be used as collateral for credit to invest in the land, or be exchanged for capital to start up another income-generating activity. The landless are excluded from these opportunities, which is why they are often among the poorest. For example, data from South Asia, home to about 40% of the world’s poor, show that poverty is strongly associated with landlessness and insecure access,” the UN report reads.
The sluggish economy holds very few prospects for creating much-needed employment opportunities.
So how can the land reform programme be effectively leveraged and used to unlock economic opportunities? How can we solve the bottlenecks that prevent the successful implementation of the land reform programme?
The Motlanthe Report, also known as the High-Level Panel Report, proposes several recommendations to solve land reform’s many challenges, which among others include corruption, cronyism, infighting, capacity limitations, under-resourced state, reluctance by government officials to work with like-minded organisations, budget constraints, scepticism around private sector participation in land reform, a single approach to compensation, and the lack of mechanisms to assess legitimate and illegitimate claims.
Plotting the way forward
First, despite the High-Level Panel’s recommendations, most of them have not been implemented. Yet the recommendations will contribute a long way towards removing the major bottlenecks that continue to impair the speedy and successful implementation of land reform.
Another viable solution to address the funding and skills gaps is to train and tap into existing skilled resources in the private sector. Participation of the private sector in the land reform programme will also assist in identifying and developing innovative funding methods.
Third, we need to rethink the land reform programme. We should consider what form equitable redress might take, since it may not just be cash compensation. There may be a wide range of other opportunities that could provide people with an attractive portfolio. For this to happen, it would be necessary to examine how restitution is handled in other countries and adapt best practices as needed for local conditions.
As we observe Human Rights Day this year, perhaps we need to reflect on the role that all stakeholders in the land reform programme – in the private and public sectors – can play in supporting efforts to drive the success of land reform.
- Peter Setou is the chief executive of the Vumelana Advisory Fund. For more information about our work in land reform, visit www.vumelana.org.za. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Food For Mzansi.
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