Land ownership, is it so desirable?


PRIOR to 1994 “black persons” did not possess the vote. The majority were relegated to so-called independent homelands, most did not own land as such, and if they did, were largely dispossessed in one way or another by a labour system, which imposed a hut tax, drafted labourers onto the mines, and created a migrant population, which eroded both tribe and family, in the process shifting profit from the land, into the hands of the rand-lords and barons.

Some 87% of the land was thus owned by white persons and only 13% by black persons. There was no child-care grant to speak of, no disability grant, pensions were skewed in favour of the white folk.

Today we all possess the vote, the social wage comprising child care grant, pensions, disability and veterans grant is growing, more black people own houses and vehicles than ever before and there is unprecedented level of economic activity compared to similar periods under sanctions.

All this may one day change. Whether it is Julius Malema demanding land, or the land debate unleashed by the tipping incident, and online invective by Qwabe et al, then you may be forgiven for thinking we are still living under apartheid, and that when one arrives at white women versus the land and the dispossessed, it all comes down to real estate.

The facts behind this tragic reality are rather different.

For starters, the post-apartheid state currently owns 14% of the land in the country , only 79.2% is in private hands.

Between 57-84% of homes owned and fully paid off in the country (depending on tenure) measured over the past year, are black owned, mostly the result of mass state housing being available for purchase at low prices.*  This is not to say that the relative value of black-owned property versus white-owned property is something to be sneezed at, the value here is still undoubtedly skewed in favour of the white minority.

Likewise equity, when it comes to shares, 30% of the stock on the JSE is either in black hands, or in companies controlled by BEEE, with the rest either “white-owned” or under foreign control. An uneven and unequal state of affairs that certainly deserves correcting. Despite the enormous gap and Gini coefficient marking South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world, the Living Standards Measure (LSM) 10 has gone from 5% black in 2004 to 29% black in 2014.

In the face of extraordinary adversity, there has been unprecedented transformation, (arguably an incomplete, unfinished transformation), —  our country’s growth has however been a mixed blessing. Our population has grown from 20 million in 1960 to 52.98 million in 2013, which means we have more than doubled our population in 50 years. For every one job that would have been sufficient to provide an income and a house in 1960, three jobs must be created today.

To make matters worse, we have gone from a long boom powered by a resource market, to a resource meltdown, starting in 2009, at the same time that we are now heading into the fourth industrial revolution and a world without jobs, where increasing mechanisation and automation translates into unskilled labour becoming forever redundant.

Instead of the bipolar world which BRICS was meant to create or supplant, (the arrangement is essentially a Post-Bretton Woods solution for the 1950s), we have belatedly, and without much planning involved, entered the digital age, kicking and screaming.

South Africa has traditionally been a slow adopter of technology, we only turned on our tv screens twenty years after the West, and likewise, our broadband cable networks. The digital age, information filled and inevitable as it is, has been another mixed blessing, it has brought us all modernity, and in turn, unprecedented choices in online media, as well as the proverbial death of distance, in which there is no economic centre at all.

In the new digital world, in theory, all parts of the globe are able to compete with each other, equally. The result has been the dematerialisation of value, the rise of bitcoin, online shopping and netflix, pop-up factories, China-on-the-Desktop, the Internet of Things, all trends for which South Africans on the lower LSMs seem inadequately equipped, and for which unions, as well as employers, have failed to prepare workers.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see the massive disruptions which are occurring in nearly every economy on the globe, and more is yet to come. SA is not alone here. Uber is disrupting the taxi industry, Amazon is disrupting commerce, P2P is disrupting copyright, Bitcoin, as already mentioned, is disrupting banking.

Unless we seize these opportunities, and figure rapidly where our next economy is going to be placed, and yes, Operation Phakisa, the Oceans Economy is one such initiative, there is a danger that we will always be on the wrong side of the digital divide, and the tale-end of the economic food chain.

There is an urgent and drastic need for better internet access for the poor, food security in the form of food garden allotments, community tool-shops which replace DIY with Do-It-with-Others (DIWO), and for a raft of safety and social security measures, these I have already mentioned to some degree on Medialternatives before, they comprise an unconditional basic income grant, income equalisation, rent stabilisation and a free education grant.

Unconditional basic income grant – this is a payment once a month into your bank account, to all citizens of voting age, essentially outlawing poverty and preventing the worst excesses of the marketplace, such as the coercion of labour.

Income equalisation – in jobs that are seasonal, a central fund evens out the high and low periods, guaranteeing safety when there is no work, and creating savings when there is not.

Rent stabilisation – a form of rent control, sets maximum rates for annual rent increases and, as with rent control entitles tenants to receive required services from their landlords and to have their leases renewed.

Free education grant – a tertiary level grant to learners enabling access to higher education.

Unfortunately, ultra-leftists within the ranks of the ruling party and opposition groups as well as neo-conservatives, shun such proposals as too utopian, idealistic, or mere neoliberal tinkering. What they, the rag-tag left and conservative lobby, desire and want most of all, is to kill the private market economy which funds social security, by transplanting failed centralist and statist command economy proposals from the old Soviet Union and Cuba, a state of affairs which paradoxically also benefits the conservatives who are, at the end of the day, merely oligarchs.

Instead of social security we end up with business on welfare, endless bailouts, and junk status. It is South Africa’s dirigiste economy (the directed market), not the market economy which has failed. And it is the conservatives who have failed us most of all. One has only to look at SAA.

*Source: South Africa Survey 2016, SA Institute of Race Relations.

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