The rural development and land reform portfolio has been characterised by large-scale policy confusion and external political pressure. Gugile Nkwinti is seen as spending too much time flogging policy proposals so poorly structured that their chance of reaching implementation is next to naught.
An example of this is the plan to expropriate 50% of farmland and distribute it to farmworkers. While laudable, the mechanics of the proposal were fraught with problems. Also, the reopening of the land claims process appears to contradict the department’s emphasis on the recapitalisation programme, which stresses strategic partnerships and commercial viability.
There are lingering questions about where the funding will come from, considering the meagre budget offered by the treasury. The estimated 397 000 claims expected to be reopened in the new restitution process are expected to cost close to R200-billion. This financial year’s budget is only R9.5-billion.Nkwinti’s time could be better spent prioritising the development of strong communal tenure policy, considering the pressure on farmers to mechanise their operations and the amount of time it has taken to provide timeframes for the finalising of land tenure claims.
This year a class action suit was brought against the department forcing it to outline reasonable timelines to finalise the claims. It was marked by the department’s numerous delays in preparing court papers.
Communal property areas – prime areas for rural development – are under external political pressure that seeks to embolden and re-entrench the custodianship of traditional councils over land.
The minister is seen as reluctant to incorporate the input of people he has consulted. Stakeholders who have participated in roundtable discussions say their participation is merely window dressing.
His reluctance to consult is felt within the ministry, with complaints now being heard from senior officials buckling under the pressure.
He is seen as a populist who oversees a department that drifts from one policy to the next without much success. Land restitution is politically sensitive and an emotive issue, and how Nkwinti balances expectations effectively will be key to his success.