A surprising endorsement by the World Bank of South Africa’s decision to expropriate land from white commercial farmers without compensation has been hailed by local commentators as a major confidence booster for those fighting for land within the country ahead of the watershed land conference.
In its latest report on South Africa, the bank took a surprising twist and pointed at the country’s skewed land distribution as part of the underlying constraints to fighting poverty and inequality.
“We have made a significant effort to understand South Africa’s history. Our report acknowledges that efforts to overcome the legacy of segregation and apartheid was bound to take a long time, even though much progress has been made.”
“The economic structure that was engineered during the apartheid era remains largely in place even though political power has been democratised. Land reform is part of addressing this legacy and the government has long stated the goal of redistributing 30% of land to the dispossessed communities,” the bank’s country director, Paul Noumba Um was quoted as saying.
Speaking to The Villager on these latest developments, political commentator and academic, Ndumbah Kamwanya described the bank’s stance as quite interesting given its notoriety of for imposing infamous decisions on so called third world countries.
“That is actually a moral boost because you can not expect that kind of language from the World Bank. I Will be interested to see what grounds did they provide but I am sure they used the inequality ground that a society that is mired in inequality is not god for democracy and the economy.”
“It’s going to have major implications not only for South Africa but also for other southern African countries that are dealing with the land issue like Namibia and even for Zimbabwe for that matter,” he said.
He said land activists will use this as precedence for other countries to follow the steps of South Africa.
“It’s a victory for land activists,” he added.
Labour expert, Herbert Jauch said while this would normally not be expected of the bank, it’s also a sign of admitting that the willing buyer willing seller model is not feasible.
“That is what South Africa has been doing for the last 24 years and like elsewhere in the region it has not produced results. If they really now recognise that land expropriation has to happen to have a meaningful redistribution of land then they would signal admission of failure of willing buyer willing seller which is exactly what the World Bank and IMF have been promoting all the years,” he said.
Will the decision dismantle the fear for alienation on the part of Namibia given what unfolded with Zimbabwe after its tumultuous land grab?
“I think the way it happened in Zimbabwe is a complex issue because it was not purely a policy to speed up land redistribution but it was also with a political agenda of re-election and being seen to deliver something at a time when the MDC emerged.”
“But in principle it is an important signal that countries actually must have a right, for developmental purposes, to speed up land reform and that they must have a right to look at mechanisms that are more effective. In that sense that would be an important step,” said Jauch.
He however advises Namibia to tread on the side of caution in handling the World bank and the IMF as well as the forces behind them, the G7 countries and the western bloc.
He still doubts that they would throw their weight behind radical land reform: “I would be more surprised, in the Namibian case of course because much of the land is held by those of German settler descent and also foreign ownership in Namibia od land is largely linked to those western countries.”