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January 17, 2011

South Africa: ‘It’s land reform - or revolution'

by Deon de Lange

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) has warned president Jacob Zuma of a possible “revolution” and “social upheaval” unless his government takes a “clear and unambiguous” position on the contentious issue of land reform.

Tension is building in the political, labour and agricultural sectors as the government prepares to process a number of controversial land and agrarian reform measures in Parliament in 2011.

Among these is the proposed Land Tenure Amendment Bill, aimed at:

Protecting the rights of people who live and work on farms.

State assistance in settling people on alternative land.

Achieving security of tenure for farm-dwellers.

Making it easier for the state to appropriate land for the purpose of land restitution and redistribution.

The Freedom Front Plus organization this week described the proposed amendments as having “far-reaching consequences for traditional property rights principles.”

Werner Weber, the party’s land affairs spokesman, said: “The government’s intention to obtain land on behalf of farmworkers by using far-reaching expropriation powers is a dangerous and irresponsible intention.”

He warned that the government appeared determined to change property rights “due to political considerations,” without realising what the consequences of this “tendency” would be.

Nehawu hit back against what it called the “sale” of the country to “foreigners” and “capitalists,” saying it was time for Zuma to “show courage and decisive leadership” by limiting or banning foreign land ownership in South Africa.

“Throughout history, unfair land distribution has been one of the most common factors in provoking revolutions and social upheavals. “It is totally unacceptable that 17 years after the fall of apartheid, we have only handed over an abysmal six percent of arable land to previously landless communities,” the organisation said.

The union’s statement goes on to call on the government to extricate the rural poor from poverty by ensuring they had access to land, training and resources in order to practise both subsistence and commercial farming.

“We find it unacceptable that, in a country with vast tracts of arable land, there are people who are malnourished - who go to bed hungry - and we experience a food crisis …The question of land is a bread-and-butter issue and, when poor people go hungry, history tells us that they fight back,” the union warned.

Land and agrarian reform are among the ANC’s five key policy priorities for 2011- along with economic development, health, education and crime - as outlined in the party’s January 8 statement delivered by President Zuma.


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