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Tread carefully on Land Bill

By Tsikoane Peshoane

THE late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere taught that land was God’s gift to man and should be treated as such.
“All human beings be they children brought up in poor or rich families, or belonging to sinners or saints, or even those whose parents are either slaves or free men, were born to find land in existence.
“They can neither add to it nor reduce its extent. It is God’s gift, given to all His creation without any discrimination,” Nyerere wrote in the early 1970s.
It is unfortunate that man has already turned natural resources such as gold, diamonds, oil and water into commodities available to the highest bidder.
It is only land and air that still remain in communal ownership.
It is interesting to note that there are still millions of Africans who still hold dear to Nyerere’s teachings on land.
This is the reason why the commoditisation of land has often been met with fierce resistance by African communities.
We have always believed as Africans that land should be communally owned and transforming it into a commodity is therefore taboo.
However, this African worldview regarding land suffered at the hands of capitalist colonial governments.
Capitalism not only encouraged African governments to abandon social responsibility but seduced them with foreign direct investment policies to open up their fragile markets for penetration.
We have come to see “brilliant” development proposals sold to African governments by multinational companies.
These companies advertise mystical benefits that could be gained if the country reforms its land tenure system.
The multinational companies are quick to point out the immense gains to be accrued in boosting revenue for rural development or the prospects of creating jobs for local people.
The most cynical claim is that these initiatives would deliver rural communities from the clutches of poverty and unemployment.
We need to look at countries that have privatised land and lifted tariffs on imports.
The question that needs to be asked is: Have the economic benefits of land reforms trickled down to the poor and rural communities as purported by proponents of land privatisation?
What are the costs of these ventures on the lives of rural communities which are mostly affected by these proposed land reforms?
What guarantees do we have as Basotho that these fears will not come true if the Land Bill is passed into law?
At the risk of appearing to be a counter-revolutionary I wish to argue that giving land to foreigners for investment purposes will have serious negative implications for Basotho.
Experiences from SADC countries should inspire us take the correct steps on the current debate.
In Malawi, there are three types of land ownership. There is customary land, public land and private land.
Under the law, the minister of lands has powers to grant leases for customary and public land. Most of the land is public land in cities and urban areas.
There are clear procedures that must be followed before anyone can acquire some land in Malawi.
Last month, Minister of Labour Yunus Mussa criticised officials in the lands ministry as well as the immigration department for selling land to foreigners thereby denying Malawians the right to own land.
Civic groups in Malawi have also accused foreigners of entering the country purporting to be investors only to start competing with the locals in running small businesses.
In South Africa we have seen prime agricultural land being turned into golf courses, housing estates and other luxurious places for the rich.
This has been true in such places as North Coast Corridor and in KwaZulu-Natal.
As a result we have seen a reduction in the grazing lands for the poor and the restriction of access to water sources.
These examples prove that in most cases land reform sometimes fails to serve the very people it is supposed to benefit.
There is very little that ordinary people get from the privatisation of land apart from the few jobs that are created. The jobs that are created are sometimes limited and are unsustainable.
Take the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, for example.
How many people are still being employed after the completion of Katse and Mohale dams?
Did the villagers’ lives improve significantly after they were relocated elsewhere to pave way for the dams?
This is also true for the mines operating in Lesotho such as Kolo in Mafeteng, Kao in Butha-Buthe as well as Lets’eng la Terai in Mokhotlong.
I wish to argue that these mines have neither improved the lives of the locals nor provided them with a sustainable means of living.
Parliament must therefore treat this delicate matter with caution. There is no guarantee that we will not meet the same hardships that people in other countries have gone through as a result of misguided land reforms.
Fears about giving land to foreigners are therefore legitimate unless the government goes out of its way to convince us otherwise.
The danger is that the new land law could turn a few into capitalist landlords with the rest of us becoming tenants.

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