‘RUSHED’ APPROPRIATION BILL A CONCERN

This article appeared in the 2 August edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

Neither Finance Minister Tito Mboweni nor his deputy, David Masondo, was present when the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) considered and passed the 2019 Appropriation Bill on Wednesday (Fin24) – tending to suggest that the final leg of its passage through Parliament was merely a formality. While NCOP member and former National Assembly Finance Standing Committee chair Yunus Carrim ‘stopped short’ of saying as much (SABC News), by drawing attention to the Minister’s absence from the House when it voted on the ‘important’ Bill, he might just as well have done so. Without Mboweni or his deputy, there could be no debate before the vote took place (Business Day).

Approved by the National Assembly on 23 July, the Bill’s ‘B’ version reflects the R17.7bn allocation to Eskom in April, which Finance Minister Tito Mboweni requested be factored into the version tabled on 20 February but not processed by the time Parliament rose for May’s elections. Having been revived on 3 July, it was subjected to public hearings just under two weeks later at a joint meeting of the NCOP and National Assembly Finance Committees. According to Parliamentary Monitoring Group records, Carrim used the opportunity to remind members that, despite capacity constraints, they have a ‘huge responsibility’ to ensure that the funds appropriated are ‘used productively’. Yet after the hearings, each committee met only once – to adopt the Bill.

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A perception in some circles that it was ‘rushed through Parliament’ is therefore hardly surprising. In the view of DA leader in the NCOP, Cathy Labuschagne, not only has neither House ever made ‘significant amendments’ to an Appropriation Bill; the ‘right to debate’ its contents is being gradually eroded (Business Day). This despite provisions in the 2009 Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act apparently requiring what her colleague, Dennis Ryder, described as ‘thorough interrogation’ during deliberations in both committees (Fin24). Given the ‘austere measures’ imposed by the 2019 Appropriations Bill, Ryder believes the three-week process fell far short of these requirements.

LAND REFORM: REPORT EXPANDS LIST OF LIKELY TARGETS FOR EXPROPRIATION WITHOUT COMPENSATION

This article appeared in the 29 July edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

While the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture report released recently lists situations in which land could be targeted for expropriation without compensation, it is envisaged that the revised Expropriation Bill will provide the required level of detail on each. Against that backdrop – and building on sub-clause 12(3) of the draft Bill released last year for comment – the report refers to ‘land already occupied and used by labour tenants and former labour tenants’; informal settlements; ‘inner city buildings with absentee landlords’; abandoned land; ‘hopelessly indebted land’; land held purely for speculative purposes; unutilised land held by state entities; land obtained through criminal activity; and farm equity schemes.

Noting an ‘emerging interest’ among private land owners in ‘goodwill’ donations, the report recommends that this, too, be considered a form of expropriation without compensation. With that in mind, a voluntary land donations policy is being drafted with input from National Treasury, the Department of Trade & Industry and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform & Rural Development. Tax exemptions and the policy’s ‘correlation’ with empowerment legislation are apparently the only matters still requiring attention.

Against that backdrop, regarding possible amendments to section 25 of the Constitution the report proposes a new sub-section (2)(c), requiring Parliament to ‘enact legislation determining instances that warrant expropriation without compensation for purposes of land reform envisaged in section 25(8)’. This appears to be a reference to the revised Expropriation Bill. The report also alludes to a provision in the Constitution itself ‘strengthening’ measures already in place for protecting farm dwellers from ‘inhumane and widescale evictions’. Given that a moratorium on land evictions would undermine section 25(1) provisions protecting land owners from the arbitrary deprivation of property, this appears to have been ruled out. Interestingly, the report also alludes to ‘myriad … shortcomings’ in a draft Regulation of Agricultural Land Holdings Bill released in March 2017 for comment. These include its focus on agricultural land, ‘the concept of land ceilings’ and related proposals for the redistribution of any excess land. ‘Further studies’ are recommended in this regard.

Several other pieces of urgently required new legislation are mentioned in the report: a National Land Reform Framework Bill or Land Redistribution Bill (among other things prioritising ‘competing needs for land’); a Land Records Bill (to formalise and record off-register property); a Restitution of Land Rights (General) Amendment Bill and Restitution of Land Rights (Judicial) Amendment Bill (to address what appear to be the Act’s numerous shortcomings); a Protection of Informal Land Rights Bill (also dealing with rights under customary law); and a Land Court Bill (to strengthen the adjudication process in the context of disputes over land restitution, distribution and expropriation). As Legalbrief Today has already reported, Justice & Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola’s recent political overview of the work of his two departments prioritised the Land Court Bill, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament ‘soon’. 

Given that, according to introductory remarks from advisory panel chair Vuyokazi Mahlati, ‘the people have voiced their impatience’ and that prevailing inequalities ‘are threatening peace and stability’, the length of time likely to be taken drafting, processing and implementing all this legislation is worrying. Other recommendations in the report point to the need for urgent attention to a raft of equally demanding imperatives, including agrarian and social reform. This is noting that if ‘social issues’ directly impacting on the quality of life of most South Africans are not addressed, the land reform programme will fail. However, beyond somewhat superficially referring to a ‘land reform fund’ and its possible ‘sources of capital’, the report is largely silent on the practicalities of how the entire ambitious programme will be financed. It is nevertheless made very clear that – as ‘one mechanism’ for enabling land reform – expropriation without compensation will not, on its own, release land on the scale required.

COMPETITION ACT AMENDMENTS UNPACKED

This article appeared in CompliNEWS on 19 July 2019

The 2018 Competition Amendment Act – several key sections of which came into force recently – ‘is evidence of government’s continued commitment to drive economic transformation and inclusion’, according to Trade & Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel. In a media statement on the sections concerned, the Minister singled out ‘a number of new definitions’ along with changes to section 8 of the principal statute, dealing with the abuse of dominance; section 10, dealing with exemptions; section 12A, dealing with the ‘public interest consideration during mergers’; sections under Chapter 4A, dealing with market inquiries; and section 59 dealing with penalties for offences. According to the statement, sections of the amendment Act not yet operationalised ‘will be phased in’ – beginning with those providing small businesses with remedies against price discrimination by dominant firms and the abuse of power by dominant buyers. These provisions are expected to be in effect ‘by November’, in anticipation of which the necessary regulations will probably be released in draft form soon for public comment.

In an article published in Mondaq, Fasken’s Johan Coetzee, Neil MacKenzie and Stuart Strachan unpack ‘some of the more notable amendments’ now in force:

  • The public interest ground sees consideration being given to ‘the promotion of a greater spread of ownership … to increase the levels of ownership by historically disadvantaged persons and workers in firms in the market’.
  • ‘The test for excessive pricing has been reformulated …, although it is largely reflective of existing case law. It has been explicitly stipulated that where it can be shown by the (Competition) Commission that the price charged by the dominant firm is prima facie excessive, the onus shifts to the dominant firm to prove that the price is reasonable.’
  • Regarding predatory pricing, ‘the scope of possible cost benchmarks has been amended to include average avoidable cost and average variable cost, in order to allow for a more accurate assessment of exclusionary behaviour’.
  • Margin squeeze … has been included in the list of specific exclusionary acts.
  • All contraventions are now ‘subject to a penalty of 10% of a firm’s annual turnover’, while ‘an administrative penalty of 25% of a firm’s annual turnover’ may now be imposed for a second offence.
  • Market inquiry proceedings will focus on market structure, observed market outcomes and conduct adversely impacting on competition. ‘Critically’, according to the article, the Competition Commission ‘will be able to take any remedial actions … it considers to be reasonable and practicable’ – other than divestiture, which can only be imposed by the Competition Tribunal. The commission’s findings and actions will be binding, unless challenged in the Tribunal.
  • Exemption provisions in the principal statute now include an additional ground: ‘to promote the ability of effective entry into, participation in or expansion within a market by small and medium businesses or firms controlled by historically disadvantaged persons’; ‘for the economic development, growth, transformation or stability of any industry designated by the Minister’; and ‘for competitiveness and efficiency gains that promote employment or industrial expansion’.

NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE: THE BUILDING BLOCKS

This article appeared in the 17 July edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

While the yet-to-be-tabled National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill is being processed in Parliament, ‘the structure of the national Department of Health will be reorganised’ and a dedicated NHI implementation unit established. The official version of Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s recent budget vote speech describes the unit as an ‘embryo’ NHI fund and staff capacity-building platform. Unfortunately, the speech was only published on the department’s website several days after being delivered, which may explain why the mainstream media overlooked so much valuable information provided by the Minister on government plans for preparing public health facilities to implement the long-awaited system. As has been widely reported, Mkhize provided no information on the primary source of revenue for NHI. However, he did refer to a ‘social compact’ on building a health system fit for its implementation. It was one of the outcomes of last October’s presidential health summit.

Mkhize also confirmed that, as the ‘backbone’ of a national electronic health patient record system, a registration system has been developed on which the details of ‘all South Africans’ are expected to have been captured by the end of the 2019/20 financial year. According to the Minister, nearly 43m users have already been registered. With the aim of improving management and governance, within the ‘next six months’ the organograms of all state-run health facilities are expected to have been reviewed and the system of delegating responsibility ‘adjusted to ensure appropriate levels of authority for effective decision making’. In addition, EU funding and bilateral agreements with Japan, the UK and France will be used to ‘build the capacity of managers to implement NHI’. In this regard, Mkhize mentioned ‘twinning arrangements’ also involving ‘academic institutions’.

Conceding that ‘it will be impossible to convince the public about the virtues of NHI unless the health infrastructure is rebuilt as a matter of urgent priority’, the Minister said a ‘team of experts in finance and health … infrastructure’ has been established ‘to seek creative financing mechanisms’ and ‘alternative’ delivery models. According to Mkhize, the team’s ‘clear directive’ is to ‘accelerate the refurbishment of all old hospitals and clinics and deliver new ones within five-to-seven years’. While a ‘significant amount’ has been budgeted for this, in the Minister’s view it is ‘grossly inadequate’. Nevertheless, the ‘entire’ infrastructure build programme has been costed – informed by an audit of all public health facilities. ‘Preliminary indications are that … (it) is feasible,’ the Minister said.

Writing for the Daily Maverick (and drawing from the department’s 2019/20 annual performance plan) the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism’s Laura Gonzalez reported that, initially, it is envisaged that, from 2021, the fund itself will be used to purchase a ‘basic package of services’ from both private and public healthcare providers. Over time, a ‘comprehensive package of services’ will be made available from regional and tertiary hospitals ‘in selected districts’. According to Gonzalez, these services could form the building blocks of ‘a basic medical aid option’ along the lines of one apparently being considered by the Competition Commission ‘as part of its four-year investigation into the private healthcare sector’.

‘DUAL’ MANDATE FOR SARB A POSSIBILITY?

This article appeared in the 8 July edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

South African Reserve Bank (SARB) governor Lesetja Kganyago has confirmed that his counterpart in New Zealand (NZ), Adrian Orr, has been invited to SA ‘because of excitement in some circles’ about a recent amendment to its mandate – which, since 1 April this year, has been to ‘protect price stability … while also supporting employment growth’ (Fin24). Kganyago revealed this recently during a business breakfast in Johannesburg, when he also drew a clear distinction between the issue of the SARB’s ownership and that of its mandate. In Kganyago’s view, by ‘conflating’ the two issues and introducing the controversial matter of ‘how to deal with inter-governmental debt’, the ANC leaders concerned (Reuters) have turned the debate on the central bank’s ownership into ‘a Trojan horse’: something that is not what it appears to be’, a ‘zombie discussion … impervious to facts’.

The mandate of the NZ Reserve Bank (NZRB) was changed ‘to address emerging policy challenges, … operate with greater transparency and accountability … (and) reinforce … (the bank’s) societal legitimacy’ according to Orr. Because his country enjoys ‘low and stable inflation, low unemployment, and broad financial stability’ – and has prospered for 30 years – the new, dual mandate appears to have been prompted more by its government’s obligation to offer ‘a coherent and unified response’ to potential global financial crises such as the one in 2009 than by any domestic challenges. Historically, the NZRB ‘has always taken labour market developments into account while formulating monetary policy’.

Last Wednesday, during a meeting of the National Assembly’s Trade and Industry Committee, Minister Ebrahim Patel provided members with a comprehensive analysis of the structural constraints facing SA’s government as it grapples with the challenge of formulating policies to stimulate ‘faster, inclusive (economic) growth’. One is that the country’s labour force (people of working age, including the unemployed) has grown by 134% since 1996. According to the Minister, this growth has been fuelled largely by more women and young people looking for work instead of remaining at home or participating in SA’s subsistence economy. During the same period, employment opportunities grew by 84%, but not enough to absorb the significantly higher labour force. The Minister also referred to the mismatch between available skills and those for which the demand across business is high.

It is against that complex backdrop that, when asked on Friday if monetary policy and ‘the limited mandate of the SARB’ has impacted negatively on growth, Kganyago is reported to have emphatically blamed the ‘contraction’ in GDP during the first quarter of 2019 (Business Day) firmly on ‘electricity constraints’, ‘strikes in the mining sector’ and ‘construction sites hijacked’. ‘You can’t solve that with monetary policy,’ Kganyago told guests at the business breakfast, adding – possibly with justifiable frustration – that ‘it just doesn’t work that way’. ‘Employment is an outcome of growth. South Africans speak about jobless growth but it’s a useless statement. When this economy was growing, you had jobs.’ The question asked of Kganyago should surely have been, ‘What, if anything can the experience of NZ as a developed economy contribute to the debate?’

A BRAND NEW SMART CITY, MR PRESIDENT? REALLY?

This article appeared in the 26 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

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This is not a South African city – nor even a smart one, since it does nothing to address the issue of urban poverty and slums. The point being that smart cities do not and never will solve those problems … especially in a developing country.

The increasingly dismal state of local government finances and the worrying attitudes of many of the senior officials responsible may have prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to qualify his remarks in last week’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) about building a smart city. Responding to a debate on the contents of his speech, the President said the notion belonged more ‘in the section on a future and desired reality’ than in the ‘section on dreams’. This is noting that, even if urbanisation and population growth rates remain their present levels, within the next decade ‘an extra 10m people’ will be looking for work and somewhere to live in SA’s cities.

According to the President, each ‘successive wave of people’ arriving in the country’s major urban areas lives further from their centres, services, transport infrastructure and any available jobs. ‘This situation is not sustainable and, unless we find effective solutions, it’s only going to get worse,’ he warned, reminding his audience of the ‘significant backlogs in housing, schools, clinics and social services’ faced by ‘almost all’ the country’s cities. This presented a perfect opportunity for Ramaphosa to elaborate on any plans he and his government may have for finally and decisively addressing the myriad challenges facing SA’s local authorities, including the culture of non-payment for services. After all, the President made it very clear during last week’s Sona that ‘the days of boycotting payment are over’. But alas, nothing more was said on the matter – at least in the official version of Ramaphosa’s response.

Meanwhile, Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu was busy painting a deeply depressing picture of local government in which he conceded that ‘the quality of the financial statements provided to his office for auditing’ continues to deteriorate (News24). Especially troubling is that the ‘audit environment’ is becoming ‘more hostile’ (News24), with municipal authorities often pressurising audit teams to ‘change’ any findings pointing to negative audit outcomes or irregular expenditure. ‘Threats’ and ‘intimidation’ are apparently being experienced in ‘most’ provinces.

It is not clear from media reports on yesterday’s debate and the President’s input if any opposition party MPs asked how government intends financing the construction of a new ‘smart city’ – and how it will be maintained once built. Poor infrastructure maintenance has been a concern for many years, as successive Ministers of Finance, Public Works and Cooperative Governance have openly acknowledged. Ramaphosa would do well to confront this issue and the shockingly high levels of financial mismanagement across local government before saying anything more about a new smart city – which will need smart people to run it.

PARLIAMENT’S ‘CAPACITY PROBLEMS’ TO BE EXPOSED?

This article appeared in the 13 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

The capacity of National Assembly committees to adequately hold the executive and state institutions to account is finally being brought to the attention of ordinary South Africans in the context of the commission of inquiry into state capture. This is noting recent allegations that SA’s fifth democratic Parliament failed to ‘prevent the looting of tax payers’ money’ despite having been alerted by ‘senior’ South African Reserve Bank officials to ‘cases’ of money laundering clearly requiring ‘urgent’ prosecution (SABC News). Commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has confirmed that ‘part of his job’ is to ‘establish a task team to assess how Parliament’s oversight structures dealt with issues of state capture, and whether there were elements of … (it) within portfolio committees’ ( Fin24).

Zondo’s pronouncements on the ‘capacity problems’ possibly experienced by National Assembly committees during the country’s fifth democratic Parliament (SABC News) have drawn attention to a long-standing concern about the quality of administrative support. By way of example, it may take weeks for the minutes of a meeting to be produced and approved – leaving committee members and interested stakeholders dependent on recordings and reports made available by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group. It is not uncommon for several sets of long-overdue minutes to be read and adopted during a meeting with a packed agenda involving other pressing and often far more complex matters. In such circumstances, is it reasonable to expect members to remember with any degree of accuracy what was discussed and decided weeks before? What becomes of any action items identified during a meeting is anybody’s guess.

Against that backdrop, it is frequently left to departmental officials or parliamentary legal advisers to tactfully remind committee members of information made available to them on which decisions have already been made. That said, documents sent to a committee secretary well before the meeting at which they are to be considered may only be circulated the evening before. It has even been known for them not to be circulated at all – just as it is not uncommon for departmental officials to table documents at the very meeting convened explicitly to discuss them. Yet despite members’ obvious unfamiliarity with the contents of such documents, the process continues. This is especially worrying in the case of proposed new legislation. Combined with an apparent lack of commitment on the part of many MPs to study documents that are made available timeously, this level of inefficiency leaves many observers wondering if the ‘engine rooms’ of Parliament are working. Perhaps Zondo’s task team will uncover more ‘capacity problems’ than can be dealt with by the commission itself.

PARLIAMENT BEGINS WORK ON NEW COMMITTEE STRUCTURES

This article appeared in the 4 June edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

The ‘naming and composition’ of Parliament’s new National Assembly committees is expected to be discussed tomorrow at a meeting of the House Rules Committee, when the process of assigning MPs to these and ‘various other bodies’ could also begin. According to a media statement released yesterday, a joint meeting of the National Assembly and NCOP programme committees will follow, focusing on matters related to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address on 20 June, the ensuing debate and the President’s reply. Once the dates for debates in both Houses on other ‘key issues’ have been identified, the programme committee of each House will finalise its ‘law-making and oversight’ schedule for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, an ongoing MPs’ induction programme will include ‘information and discussion sessions’ on their constitutional mandate and responsibilities, ‘interests, ethics and code of conduct’, and ‘participation’ in National Assembly and NCOP plenary sittings and committee meetings. It will also deal with the parliamentary budget office, law making and public participation, security on the parliamentary precinct, relations with the media and MPs’ ‘facilities and benefits’. Given the poor attendance record of most members of SA’s fifth democratic Parliament and their apparent reluctance to familiarise themselves with the nuts and bolts of many Bills before them, something is hopefully being done to avoid a repeat performance.

In theory, responsibility for such matters lies with party whips whom – yesterday’s statement notes – not only ‘assist in organising party business’ but are also expected to ensure that party representatives ‘attend committee meetings and debates in the House’. While it is not clear from the statement what is meant by ‘parliamentary business’, party whips are required to keep MPs suitably informed. Last year, when things fell apart in the National Assembly’s Trade and Industry Committee as it attempted to come to grips with the Copyright Amendment Bill, an ANC whip was brought in. Sadly, this made no difference whatsoever to the quality of input from committee members during ensuing deliberations. Perhaps tomorrow’s meeting of National Assembly chief whips will mark the beginning of a new era of well-informed, robust committee discussions?

EFF POISED TO UP THE PARLIAMENTARY ANTE

This article appeared in the 14 May edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

The EFF’s performance in South Africa’s recent general elections may not have been as spectacular as its leaders predicted, but 19 more seats in the National Assembly represents a 76% increase in the party’s ability to influence the parliamentary process. Apart from the role its ‘signature proposals’ may well have played in prompting an ANC policy shift in support of expropriation without compensation as an instrument for accelerating land reform (Daily Maverick), since 2014 – with just 25 seats – the EFF has also made a significant impact on debates in the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Finance.

It all began with EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu presenting his party’s position on transfer pricing as far back as May 2015, triggering a three-year process later involving the committees on trade and industry, mineral resources and police – and eventually focusing on the measures required to curb base erosion and profit shifting (Parliamentary Monitoring Group). Last year, by tabling an albeit superficial Banks Amendment Bill, Shivambu went on either
to spark or rekindle a debate on the merits of enabling state-owned entities to register as banks. As a result, although his piece of legislation was rejected, a Financial Matters Amendment Bill, among other things introducing the necessary provisions, is now awaiting presidential assent.

A South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Amendment Bill introduced in the National Assembly last August by EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema has yet to be considered. One of the proposed new statutes on which members of the incoming Standing Committee on Finance will cut their teeth, it, too, lacks substance from a technical drafting perspective. However, President Cyril Ramaphosa has already made it very clear that the ANC’s 2017 elective conference resolution to nationalise the SARB will be implemented (Fin24) – and, once again, the EFF has kick-started the process.

Hopefully, the new, numerically stronger cohort of red overall wearers in Parliament will desist from the kinds of activities for which the EFF became notorious during former President Jacob Zuma’s second term in office. As in the case with every other political party preparing to occupy seats in SA’s sixth democratic Parliament, the names of EFF representatives will feature in lists expected to be released by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng this week (SABC News). But it is the calibre of incoming MPs that counts, regardless of their ideological persuasion. Will they familiarise themselves with the issues? Will they read and scrutinise every document sent their way? Will they faithfully attend every meeting of the committees to which they are deployed? Will they enrich the quality of debate and new legislation? Will they deliver what is really in the country’s best interests?

HOW REALISTIC ARE THE PRESIDENT’S ELECTIONEERING PROMISES?

This article features extracts from one that appeared in the 2 May edition of Legalbrief Today, under Policy Watch

I often wonder what the late Eric Molobi, co-founder of Kagiso Trust Investments, would have thought of all the shenanigans associated with the ruling party. Having begun his political career with the Black Consciousness Movement, he changed allegiance after a spell on Robben Island – where he was apparently ‘re-educated’ at the knee of none other than former President the late Nelson Mandela. What would he have made of recent utterances by President Cyril Ramaphosa, whom he knew well?

Here’s what I wrote for Legalbrief Policy Watch:

‘We continue to work on the land issue. We continue to make sure that the resolution … passed at our conference in 2017 is implemented so that we return the land of our forebears to the people of our country. That, comrades, is going to happen without … fail.’ President Cyril Ramaphosa made this commitment during a Cosatu Workers’ Day rally in Durban on 1 May 2019 (IoL) – just seven days before South Africans go to the polls to elect the country’s sixth democratic administration. While, at the time of writing, the only video footage of the President’s remarks on land reform ended mid-sentence, he is reported to have linked them to the prospect of ever-increasing employment opportunities in the agricultural sector (News24).

Although the full text of the speech has yet to be made electronically available, according to media coverage Ramaphosa’s other pronouncements touched on economic transformation (so that ‘people can enjoy the bounties of the country’); the minimum wage (‘all companies must implement it without fail so workers can start moving away from poverty wages’); rape (‘I call upon men to offer respect to women of the country and offer them the honour they deserve’); gender parity in the workplace (members of the tripartite alliance are ‘in a position to push for equal pay, equal training and promotions for women’); and passenger rail transport (‘we want you to go to work with ease’). Meanwhile, government is busy ‘cleaning up’ at Eskom, which is ‘in repair mode’. Those ‘accountable’ will apparently ‘have to face the music’.

In the context of recent announcements on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform website, Ramaphosa’s remarks point to the distinct possibility of yet more unfulfilled expectations on the part of ordinary South Africans. Here’s what I wrote in Legalbrief Policy Watch just a few days before they were made:

Since January, news items on the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform website have regularly featured two issues of considerable significance in the context of land restitution: farming equipment handed to rural communities and fraudulent land claims. While smallholder farmers have this month alone received implements and other ‘production support’ worth ‘millions of rand’, during the same period the department was obliged to allay concerns about illegal developments on state-owned land in Polokwane. There was an ‘unfortunate incident’ in the same area during February, when false reports of claims on land in Centurion also surfaced. While it is not clear what, if any, action has since been taken, expectations have been raised that may well be unrealistic. Can they be managed?

Given the poor state of most farms returned to the descendants of their pre-colonial occupants, perhaps media statements on equipment and support provided to emerging black farmers should focus less on rand value and more on effective use, maintenance and potential returns. Since his post-ANC national executive committee speech last July announcing a dramatic policy shift on land expropriation, President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly assured South Africans and the international community that escalated land reform will not impact negatively on food security. Yet reports on recent ‘hand-overs’ are worryingly superficial. Last Friday, when a ‘production support unit’ was launched in the Harrismith area as part of a ‘stimulus package’ apparently valued at ‘over R50m’, one beneficiary observed that the new machinery will make it ‘easy to farm’ and feed his family. Hopefully, it will accomplish a great deal more than that.