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Land cliches give no firm foundation for reform

Author: Leon Louw

FEW issues account for more passion and nonsense than land. When a media personality of Lerato Mbele’s eminence says on the BBC that 80% of the land is still owned by whites, does she know what she means? Does whoever she quotes know what they mean? Do confidently repeated and hugely divergent numbers mean anything? Do estimates have plausible sources? Do originators of sources have coherent concepts? If the number is what whites “still” own, what was it before? What is the benchmark date: 1994, 1984, 1948, 1913, 1815, 1797, 1652? Does anyone know how much land is privately or state-owned?

Earlier this month, Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti released the latest source of number nonsense, the department’s “land audit”. Lay people, including ministers who make far-reaching policies, can be forgiven for thinking “audits” are accurate; based on reliable sources and coherent definitions. Or can they? How many absurdities and contradictions are needed to generate doubt and demand accuracy?

This column raises rather than answers questions with a view to encouraging observers to question cliches, not just about land, but memes generally.


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