PREMIER'S PERSPECTIVE: Land revitalisation initiatives stimulating province’s growth

Land represents the source of all material wealth. We live on it and from it, we get everything we use or value, whether it be food, clothing, fuel, shelter, metal or precious stones.

Food from our land connects individuals to family, family to community, community to culture, culture to agriculture and, ultimately, our food connects us to every other community of life including non-human ones in the soil, the water and the air.

That is why land ownership remains an intensely emotional and political subject. For decades before 1994, blacks were stripped of their land. In apartheid South Africa, the takeover of black land was legal. The aim of the 1913 Natives Land Act was to restrict blacks to 13% of the land.

Fixing this painful legacy has been the central promise of the new South Africa. More than a dozen proposed new laws and policies promise to overhaul land reform and help kick-start the rural economy. Reform is being achieved by three means: restitution to return confiscated land, redistribution to transfer ownership to a new class of farmers, and new laws to strengthen land titles for vulnerable groups such as farmworkers.

The new expropriation bill and the property valuation bill try to make land-buying faster by making it easier for the government to take land from those who don’t want to sell. The Eastern Cape has been blessed with a wealth of natural resources. If used responsibly and effectively, the resources can be used to grow our economy and create jobs.

With two major cities, Port Elizabeth and East London, it is the only province in the country with three ports, and it has large tracts of unutilised arable land accompanied by high rainfall in the east of the province.

Yet, with all these resources, the province remains one of the poorest in South Africa.

Its poverty rate of 70% is the second highest in the country, behind Limpopo together with its 30% unemployment rate.

We have committed ourselves to developing our rural areas. We want all our rural areas to have economic activities so that our people can have jobs and also be able to make a living from the land and from small businesses in rural areas. Through our RED Hubs, in Alfred Nzo district, Mqanduli in the King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, Ncora at Intsika Yethu Municipality and Lady Frere in Emalahleni Municipality, the government has invested R130-million during the past three years to stimulate growth through agriculture and agro-processing to alleviate poverty and address low levels of development. In addition, the provincial government has spent over R500-million on agricultural infrastructure development projects, thus contributing to increased agricultural production.

The projects include dams revitalisation and irrigation scheme development, stock water enhancement, livestock handling and dipping facilities, hydroponics infrastructure and fencing of arable land. The government has also entered into a partnership with the Grain Farmers Development Association to plant maize in the Matatiele local municipality. GrainSA, through the Jobs Fund, has also been assisting communal farmers in the district.

The national government has spent R100-million on the Ilima/Letsema national conditional grand projects aimed at eradicating poverty and stimulating the economy.

Proudly, our province is the powerhouse of the southern African citrus industry and accounts for 28% of citrus production in South Africa. We also boast the most progressive and successful black citrus growers in the country, with over a third of South Africa’s exports, and home to 50% of South African lemons.

Being an agro-based province, we need to increase agricultural productivity to boost food production, achieve food security and sustainable economic development by increasing the availability of wholesome, locally grown food that everyone can afford.

The good news is that local food systems have an innate ability to create infrastructure for their communities because they stimulate the growth of skilled jobs, small businesses, caring land stewardship, healthy people and cultural flowering as more and more folks take pleasure in cooking and the fellowship of shared meals.

Land is a finite resource.

Hence, down the ages, it has been a repository of all human emotions. Land provides status, wealth and power. As a fundamental resource for the Eastern Cape Province, we will all benefit from a more integrated and strategic approach to land management.

Let us value land for the well-being of life on earth.

Phumulo Masualle is the premier of the Eastern Cape province. Follow him on EC_Premier

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