Naïve to pass Land Bill before land conference

Kae Matundu-Tjiparuro

It is rather sad to see that government is pressing ahead with enacting the Land Bill before the second national land conference, that’s is slated for September.

Despite a groundswell appeal from the public, especially from communities who have historically been dispossessed of their ancestral land and who are preparing their inputs into the Land Bill, government through the Ministry of Land Reform, has extended this period for consultations by only one month from Monday this week.

The public and all interested now have until February 16 to submit their contributions.

The government does not only seem to lack the requisite good sense necessary for good governance, but even its sense of timing seems twisted. This is while for such an important public policy issue there has been groundswell of opinion among interested parties that they be given adequate time for their input, notice of invitation for such submissions was only given in December, while the government must surely have known that many of those who may have a cardinal interest in the Land Bill would be away on holiday.

This was after the Land Bill made a brief run in the National Assembly, where – understandably – it could not make any headway.

Yes, one may understand that surely those who have vested interest in the Land Bill must have done what they can to provide the necessary input before the initial deadline of January 16, if only to show their seriousness with the matter. But one wonders how many interested and affected parties had their inputs ready for the January 16 deadline.

However, that cannot be a reason that the ministry was, in the first instance, in such a seeming hurry, given the general slowdown in anticipation of the festive season. This surely speaks volume to the laissez-faire attitude of some of our politicians towards public issues, even crucial ones like the Land Bill.

One need not convince the responsible ministry, nor politicians and bureaucrats of the sensitivity of the land question, as well as its centrality as a pivotal resource to many, especially the landless and homeless impoverished masses in this country.

This being the case and while stakeholders many a time, and not so long ago – even during the close of last year – were loudly and unambiguously vocal on the matter (especially on the absolute need for a second land conference), the government and the ministry strangely, seem in a baffling haste to steamroll through the Land Bill.

This is also why the timing of government and the ministry’s apparent effort to preposterously and prematurely bulldoze the Land Bill through parliament ahead of the long-overdue second land conference is questionable?

Notwithstanding some commendable provisions in the Land Bill – such as prohibiting foreign nationals from owning agricultural, commercial and communal lan – surely there is no way that this Bill can be divorced from the long-awaited second land conference, and vice versa.

Not suspending the Land Bill until the second land conference cast doubt on the government’s seriousness about and sensitivity to the land issue. How the government responds to this concern can be a testimony to its sensitivity to public opinion and its approach towards public policy issues, such as the land question, which – needless to say – is one of the burning public policy issues of our time.

It was after all the chronic insomnia of our public officials and politicians, subconsciously or consciously, over the land issue that led to the no-holds barred position of the former minister of land, Bernadus Swartbooi. The reverberations thereof are very much alive and loud and cannot be wished away this year or in years to come.

This is exactly the context in which the Land Reform Ministry and the government would be well advised to approach the Land Bill. The message being heard loud and clear is that it is not only politically insensitive, but also injudicious and imprudent to go ahead with the Land Bill.

Yet many a time members of the public have put a brake on an important policy process, only for it to be founding wanting in terms of its input, after having been granted the time it demanded.

With the exception of the Non-governmental Organisations Forum (Nangof), which has since last year been visiting constituencies of especially the land dispossessed, it remains to be seen how many traditional leaders are and have been preparing for the second land conference.

Will they be ready this time around with their inputs if they are given more time to prepare to make a contribution to such conference if their plea for a postponement in the tabling of the Land Bill is granted?

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