Been there, done that, but is Thoko Didiza the right choice?

Lucas Ledwaba

Early last year South Africans were presented with shocking statistics on the reality of skewed land ownership dynamics through the Land Audit.

The audit outcome was undeniable proof that the ANC government had failed dismally in addressing the pressing issue of land reform and restitution.

Thoko Didiza, who was this week named as the new minister of agriculture, land and rural development spent a good eight years as minister of the same portfolio between 1999 and 2006.

So it won’t be unfair to say Didiza was part of the failure that has resulted in the brewing discontent over the slow pace of land reform and restitution that has seen political parties clamber to change the Constitution with the hope of speeding up settlement of the issue in recent years.

The Land Audit found that although black South Africans made up 79% of the population they only enjoyed 1.2% of direct ownership of the country’s rural land. The audit painted a further disheartening picture, revealing that black South Africans owned just 7% of formally registered property in towns and cities.

The majority of the land remained in the hands of whites who made up just 9% of the country’s population but directly owned 23.6% of the country’s rural land and 11.4% of land in towns and cities.

Didiza’s appointment by president Cyril Ramaphosa to a portfolio she previously occupied for close to a decade raises a few pertinent questions.

What does Didiza bring now which she didn’t possess between 1999 and 2006 that saw land ownership dynamics remain skewed in favour of apartheid beneficiaries?

Does Ramaphosa perhaps believe that this could be a case of second time lucky for Didiza who has also served as minister of public works between 2006 and 2008?

But what has changed that wasn’t available then to enable Didiza to fast track land reform?

Bar for a few additions and changes to the statutes governing land reform, legislation has remained relatively unchanged since her first tenure in this portfolio.

Last year Didiza served as chairperson of the Ad Hoc Committee to Amend Section 25 of the Constitution. The EFF has in recent years emerged as a champion of advocating for speeding up land reform and restitution by preaching ‘expropriation of land without compensation.’

The Reds have even managed to corner the ANC, who have previously voted against the motion to amend this section into voting alongside Julius Malema and his comrades in Parliament.

But how does the debate on the amendment of section 25 help Didiza now? She is in a precarious position in that although politicians from both the EFF and ANC have created an impression that amending section 25 would be the answer to overturning the skewed land ownership, the truth is this is nowhere near the truth.

Land reform and restitution have been slowed down by a number of issues including lack of capacity in researching, resolving and settling land claims by statutory bodies such as the Commission for Restitution of Land Rights.

The process has like other arms of the state been dogged by corruption among officials, including, according to recent reports Didiza’s own comrades in the ANC. That Didiza’s appointment is hailed even by opponents of land reform like the Freedom Front Plus leader Dr Pieter Groenewald is telling. Groenewald hailed the fact that Didiza has prior experience in the portfolio as one of her advantages.

Being applauded by a conservative white Afrikaner whose organisation thrives off ensuring the skewed land dynamics remain unchanged could be a sign they are sure as hell it will be business as usual under Didiza.

Last year Didiza’s predecessor Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at the department’s budget vote speech that R40-billion has been on settling land claims by then. There is however little to celebrate in practical terms because the practice of throwing money at this huge challenge has not yielded results.

Didiza has proven to be one of a few upright, clean, dedicated, conscientious and principled leaders of the ANC not tainted by any scandal or corruption. Didiza is also a dedicated scholar with a hobby for collecting academic qualifications.

But whether she is the right candidate for the job, especially with a shrinking economy that’s bleeding jobs amid growing hunger for land from impoverished blacks, remains a big question mark.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *