By Sobantu Mzwakali
Former president Kgalema Motlanthe promised after two days of public hearings in Mpumalanga this week that the High Level Panel he heads would take the complaints of rural people to officials in government for action.
“(We will) take the issues to relevant departments and follow up with officials,” Motlanthe vowed after two days of blistering testimony in Nelspruit about the failures of post-apartheid governance and legislation.
“Issues of poverty, unemployment, inequality and hunger for land need to be addressed so that they serve as a platform for nation-building and social cohesion,” he said.
Constance Mogale, convener of the Alliance for Rural Democracy (ARD), laid into the organisers of the event after delegates were left stranded at pick-up points designated for transport to the hearing.
“For this panel to come to this province is an opportunity to our activism, but our disappointment is that voices to be heard are not here,” she told the panel of eminent South Africans appointed last year to assess the impact of legislation intended to transform the country after centuries of colonial and apartheid rule.
“Those voices are waiting somewhere at KFCs and garages – waiting for transport,” she said.
The 17-member panel chaired by Motlanthe was appointed by the Speaker of Parliament to prepare a report and recommendations to make legislation more effective as a driver of transformation. Other members include former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni and former Auditor General Terence Nombembe.
In his opening remarks at Mpumalanga’s public hearings on January 18 and 19, Motlanthe said: “We want you to share on how legislation has impacted your lives.”
The panel will evaluate the progress of key legislation passed by parliament and provincial legislatures since 1994. It will do this through public consultations across the country and other research processes. The panel will evaluate how the laws of democracy assisted or obstructed the country in realising the kind of society envisaged in the Constitution. Its work is divided into three streams:
- Poverty, unemployment, inequality and equitable distribution of wealth;
- Land reform and rural development;
- Social cohesion and nation building.
Hearings have been held in six provinces so far with many delegates tearing into the government for its failure to implement its own policies, as well as the demands of the Constitution.
The ARD’s Mogale said Parliament’s weak logistical arrangements for poor people trying to reach the venue were “a sign of the political dynamics in Mpumalanga; the commercial and private is dominating civil society. The public space or policy making is occupied by people with vested interests (who) have no interest in rural people.”
She said the space was filled with people from “elite organisations, not ordinary households, which excludes and marginalises the poor rural voices.”
“Resources are always diverted to transport people who are here to fill the attendance register, not to participate,” she charged.
She further accused Parliament of failing to host pre-hearing workshops for educational purposes and to collect submissions from those who could not make it to the hearings.
Speaking on frustrations at village level with regard to authority, land and mineral resources, Mogale said: “It is the responsibility of government to take care of the vulnerable. It is the responsibility of government to give land back to the landless. It is its responsibility to take care of its people, not CPAs and traditional leaders. Government is diverting its responsibilities to people with questionable capabilities.”
She said legislation in the new democracy guarded the interests of people who had land, access to resources and other forms of privilege under apartheid.
“That means black rural people continue to be excluded from access to mineral and water rights. The rural poor are excluded from enjoying the wealth of this country.
“Villages are being regularised by malls and developments next to them. Now one cannot differentiate between a small-scale farmer and a gardener. Farm-dwellers are evicted from their land by being given RDP houses. Laws are not favoring people and their livelihood.
“In South Africa, customary rights are being undermined because we don’t have communal tenure law. The development of malls happens on the land used for plowing and grazing. The customary rights inherited over the generations are being undermined,” Mogale said.
Witbank delegate Pinky Langa of Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA) said: “South Africa has beautiful laws (but they) don’t protect poor black people speaking of negative impacts of mining in the province.”
She also used the spotlight to fire shots at the international Investing in Mining Indaba taking place in Cape Town from February 6, saying: “The Indaba takes place in Cape Town, but there are no mines there. It must come to affected communities.”
Other participants expressed frustration that rural citizens had been excluded from the democratic project in South Africa and that they were still living under apartheid laws.
The panel is scheduled to report by August this year.
Sobantu Mzwakali is a writer with the Alliance for Rural Democracy