Speaking in January to Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulus, Cyril Ramaphosa said "we can make this country the Garden of Eden." Almost two million jobs could be provided by improving agriculture. This is double the number of new jobs envisaged in the National Development Plan (NDP) adopted in 2012. Against that, the agricultural sector has shed 1.2 million jobs since 1971, so that it now employs only 835 000 people – although this figure excludes subsistence farmers in former homelands.
According to the NDP, there were 440 000 smallholder households with enough land to "farm at some scale." The New Growth Path published by the minister of economic development in 2011 envisaged 300 000 more households in agricultural schemes by 2030. An Industrial Policy Action Plan approved by the Cabinet three years ago spoke of increasing the number of smallholder households in agriculture to 400 500 by 2019. Jacob Zuma spoke of 230 000 commercial farmers, mostly in former homelands, ready to expand beyond these areas.
Few of these targets have been achieved. President Ramaphosa's promised two million new jobs will not be achieved either. As for making South Africa a "Garden of Eden", this is beyond the capability of both his government and his party. Expropriating farm land, with or without compensation, will do the opposite.
Speaking in another homeland kingdom, also in January, Mr Ramaphosa said much of the redistributed land "is lying derelict at the moment." He would order a study of this land to see how things could be changed for the better. "Let us work this land. Let us demonstrate to ourselves to start with that we can actually work the land. Let us demonstrate to all that we are ready to revolutionise agriculture in our land and that we are ready to go into agro- processing and are ready to set up industrial nodes all over the rural areas in our country."
A logical response to the admission of failure and acknowledgement of uncertainties as to whether "we can actually work the land" and "go into agro-processing" would be to put a moratorium on the acquisition of land until the study has been carried out and the reasons for failure identified and counteracted. To accelerate land reform via expropriation without compensation is to put the plough before the tractor.
According to documents published with Malusi Gigaba's budget speech last month, the government will provide 435 000 subsistence and smallholder farmers with inputs such as farm equipment, fencing, fertilisers, and improved extension services. It would be interesting to know how many people in government actually believe this ambitious target is any more likely to be achieved than its predecessors.
One of the main drivers of the policy of expropriation without compensation, as this column pointed out last week, is the continuing commitment of the African National Congress (ANC) to the national democratic revolution. Another key driver is fantasy.
The new minister of rural development and land reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, says that "we need to make agriculture fashionable" to "our children". Her immediate predecessor, Gugile Nkwinti, might be able to tell her how difficult this is. He complained some time ago that 92% of restitution beneficiaries had opted for financial compensation instead of land. "We thought everybody, when they got the chance to get land, would jump at it." But they had become urbanised and "deculturised" in terms of tilling and preferred to earn wages.
Gwede Mantashe, then secretary general of the ANC and now minister of mineral resources, said most land claim beneficiaries preferred to sell their farms (land redistribution beneficiaries are now not allowed to do so because they do not own them). Nor were their children interested in farming or studying agriculture. The Land Bank said that young blacks were not interested in farming. The Agricultural Sector Education and Training Authority said that "young people do not find agricultural careers attractive".
So it will be up the garden path with ideology, fantasy, and thumbsuck targets to the Garden of Eden.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.