The Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture spotlights land belonging to churches, mining houses and urban landlords for distribution for reform. It urges them to donate this land to the landless. Internal conflict over whether to donate is likely to arise. Disputes should be resolved sooner rather than later, with the focus on reconciliation.
Why is church land being targeted for land reform?
The presidential panel urges churches to take the lead, to create the necessary momentum for other sectors to follow suit. The call is phrased in very strong terms and it will be hard for the church, in particular, to ignore. The Presidential Advisory Panel Report notes that missionaries are complicit in the taking of land, saying that in the colonial era missionaries in Natal got so much land, that it earned ‘the dubious honour of being the most evangelised region in the whole of the African continent’. It says this land should be given back, and if churches donate it to the landless it would ‘considerably sanitise their image as agents of dispossession and deliberate impoverishment of the Africans’.
Who decides whether church land must be donated?
Churches and missionary bodies are founded in different ways. For example by a trust deed or an association with a constitution. The land title deed is usually held by this entity. The founding documents often have rules requiring congregational permission to dispose of land. Rules vary between different churches and missionary bodies. No one can sign to donate and transfer land owned by the church without proper permission. A conveyancer has to check this.
If churches donate their land should they choose who gets it?
The presidential panel is concerned that in the past only ‘converted Africans’ were allowed to stay on land given to mission churches and missionaries. It says there was ‘a racial agenda perpetrated by the missionaries as covert agents of the state’. It is therefore possible that religious affiliation may not be used as a selection criteria for land donated directly to the state for land reform.
Will the state beneficiary selection policies decide who gets the land?
We don’t know the answer to this yet. The panel says new land beneficiary selection guidelines must be drafted immediately. We don’t know what the selection criteria will be. Religious affiliation is not used as a selection criterium in beneficiary processes now. If churches, mining houses and urban landlords donate land to the state (for land reform) we don’t know yet if they will be given a direct say in the criteria for who gets their land. Who is a deserving beneficiary for donated land still has to be decided.
What if beneficiary selection is too difficult for the donor to do?
The report speaks about this for land held by the church. It says that the state – with ‘all its good intentions’ – will readily facilitate the systematic and orderly transfer of those properties to the deserving beneficiaries.
How should donors handle conflict over whether to donate land?
Conflicts could arise over the donation of the land and over who should get it. In churches, this conflict could be between leaders of churches and missionary bodies, congregants, volunteers, workers, funders and people occupying the land. Mining houses and urban landlords will have different stakeholders, including workers, shareholders and people occupying the land. Any private sector entity considering donation is advised to enter into a conciliatory process before conflicts escalate. The beneficiary selection process after donation must also be clearly understood before the final decision to donate is made.
How can we help?
Leslie Downie is a specialist in pro-poor land issues and church land tenure. She is uniquely skilled to give advice to the private sector, religious bodies, NPO’s and government on these matters. She and Graham Giles are also accredited mediators and offer alternative dispute resolution services to religious bodies.