Nationalising Land?

by Aug 25, 2010All Articles

By Amandla! Editorial Staff

What would a sincere debate on the nationalisation of the mines mean for millions of landless rural workers who are still waiting for the land reform promised? Amandla! asked Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza who leads the project for Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa at the University of Cape Town.

Amandla!: The debate on nationalisation of the mines would eventually provoke a debate on the property clause in the Constitution. How does this clause on property function in relation to the delay of a land reform?

Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza: I would definitely say that the property clause is a hindrance to a solution of the land question. It protects the existing property rights. In another passage, the Constitution says that ‘the state can expropriate’ land. Some therefore argue that a land reform is dependent on political will. It is true that there is no political will. But we have instances where the state has introduced the Expropriation Bill in disputes. In court, white landowners meet this with: ‘This is unconstitutional.’ They threaten to take the matter to the Constitutional Court. Because, in the Constitutional Court, the property rights would most certainly weigh heavier than the option given by the Constitution to expropriate land.

That position is backed by so-called experts at the universities – both at traditionally Afrikaans-speaking and English-speaking universities, like UWC. And it is backed by agricultural capital, here and abroad. The other thing stopping a land reform is that the Constitution only provides for expropriation of land with compensation. Who determines the price? Is it the market? The cost then becomes completely unpredictable! In Eastern Cape, one hectare of land cost R600 ten years ago. Now it costs R3 000. The Department of Land Affairs has acknowledged: they cannot afford this. Historically, land we are buying has been stolen. This is legal today, but it is not legitimate. The claims of the dispossessed are just, even if they today are not legal.

Do you think it is possible to link the land question to the demand for nationalising the mines?

Yes, I do. If we say: ‘Land should be returned to the people’, who are ‘the people’? What form of tenure are we talking about? Presently, the government is in for a so-called deracialisation of capitalism. Firstly: this project is impossible. You will never have non-racial capitalism in South Africa. Secondly, if we are critical to existing property rights and capitalism as such, what would be a positive response? I think we must acknowledge that land is a common resource. It is immoral to own such a resource privately. This should also go for mining. Minerals are also a common resource. Mining should belong to the people. But here I think one must make a big distinction between nationalisation and socialisation. The problem of corruption is evident when it comes to direct state ownership of mining production. But the deeper question is: Who is the state? The state is not the people! However, the state today owns the mineral rights and decides who shall have the licence to mine. This enables the state to be a facilitator, providing for sustainable collective and community ownership of mines. Something in this debate is very wrong. There is a phenomenon today which is expanding to the Bantustans, in Limpopo province, in KwazZulu- Natal, in Eastern Cape. We have many cases of illegal eviction of people. This is done to pave the way for private mining. BEE companies are very active in this. When there is an agreement about those cases there is often agreement with the local chief, who is bribed. The rights of the evicted thus become denied. Mine owners can give promises to resettle people and to rebury bones previously exhumed. This is not done properly. There are numerous complaints.

So land use and mining clearly are connected. Do you think that a referendum on the future of the mining industry is a viable option?

I like the idea if there is a real debate that at a certain point culminates in a referendum. But Marx once wrote that the dominating ideas in a society are the ideas of the ruling class. I would like to see a referendum where informed citizens vote when the time comes. Community radios could have a role to play here. They could be instrumental in a period of intense debate, which should lead to a referendum made by informed citizens.

Read more articles from Amandla! Issue#9, September 2009

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