William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Lies, damned lies and flawed statistics

Dependable statistics are critical to modern government. Without them delusion, wishful thinking and policy chaos reign. As is happening in the land affairs ministry.

Recent data reveal a serious flaw in the way the government is tackling land ownership redress. It shows that the restitution process distorts critically the measure that the African National Congress has chosen to assess progress on this critical and emotionally charged issue.

At present, successful claimants are given an option between land – for practical reasons, not always the land they were deprived of – or equivalent monetary compensation. This ”money or the box” choice has significant disadvantages.

The first is that it makes virtually impossible to achieve the goal of 30% of ”white” land – asserted to be 87% of South Africa, but a contested figure – to be transferred into black ownership.

So far 2.8-million hectares have been redistributed at a cost of R13-billion or R4 693 per hectare. This represents a mere 8% of the total agricultural land and amounts to a dismal 26% of the government’s target.

Failure to reach that self-imposed target is the reason why the ANC is contemplating compulsory expropriation. But it emerges from an Institute of Race Relations survey that on top of the R13-billion, another was R6-billion was paid in financial compensation to black claimants.

If this had not been paid out, but instead had been used to buy land, an additional 1.3m hectares could have been transferred, taking the government’s progress towards its goal to over the 40% mark. That might not be enough to satisfy the ANC’s land-hungry support base, but it’s not too shabby, given that the education department pegs 40% as a reasonable pass for matric students.

It is, of course, the democratic right of successful claimants to take the money instead of the land, but their decision needs to be factored into land-ownership percentages. Not doing so skews the picture.

A second disadvantage of the current restitution process is that paying out these claimants slakes land hunger temporarily, but it does not resolve it. Cash that is not invested in productive assets tends to evaporate on consumer products and in a few years the money is likely spent. Also, since most land was originally shared communally, when a pay-out is made it is to the minority who organised and sussed enough to lodge a claim; many who would have a historical right to re-settle restitution land miss out completely from the financial compensation.

Whiteys, however, are still very visibly sitting on the land, which makes double-dipping politically irresistible. That is one of the reasons why there is pressure on the ANC to re-open the land-claim process, which had as its cut-off date dispossessions going back to 1913, the year the Land Act was passed.

The complexion of who owns the land and how to keep feeding a burgeoning population requires that the ANC balance emotion with pragmatism. Statistical distortions – either deliberate, by politicians of every hue, or inadvertent, stemming from out-of-date assumptions and flawed extrapolations – should not be allowed to bedevil matters further.

For example, if the ANC used a range of performance criteria, instead of reduced land reform to the single, simplistic measure of 30% ”white” land reclaimed, it might pat itself on the back. By March 2011, government had settled 76 229 claims involving more than 1.6-million beneficiaries, representing an impressive 96% of total valid claims.

On the other side of the fence, farmer organisations argue, somewhat disingenuously, that if all state land – an estimated 25% of SA – was previously ”white”, it now is ”black”, in that government could redistribute it at the stroke of a pen. Add into the equation the already restored land and redistributed land – separate processes with different budgets — as well as the unknown but apparently significant amount of land transferred privately, and black land ownership conceivably is in the 40%-50% range.

But we actually just don’t know.

Whatever procedural changes there might need to be – like controversially abandoning the ”willing buyer, willing seller” policy – Land Affairs needs to work with credible statistics. A full land audit would be a good start.

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    • bernpm

      “…..Land Affairs needs to work with credible statistics. A full land audit would be a good start.”

      “Credible” is not enough! Would you board a plane where the pilot announces that he has credible instruments and a credible weather forecast using a credible flight plan??

      Would it not be possible that this kind of information can be extracted from the regular census?

      Or is it that statistics become less reliable as a result of the lack of statistical skills in that Stats department? We all know that the pass rate for maths is nothing to be happy about. If many departments cannot keep their books in order, how can we expect the more complex statistical computations to be 100% accurate.

    • http://www.southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      It more delusional to call the “willing-buyer-willing-seller” model “controversial” when its a gross insult to blacks (Africans, Coloureds and Indians) dispossessed of their lands for CENTURIES, way before even the evil Land Act , a mere 100 years ago that only served to intensify the scale of land theft!!!

      Its more delusional of the beneficiaries of apartheid (BOAs) now sitting on over 80% of PRIME LAND to only look to government to solve this explosive issue,

      Furthermore, the “willing-buyer-willing-seller” model allowed BOAs to double-dip for the last two decades while real-estate prices rose sharply proving that BOAs CAN have their cake and eat it too! This has significantly exacerbated land reform in a multitude of ways.

      To now demand a “full land audit” is MADNESS – yet another stalling tactic while BOAs continue to enjoy the benefits of stolen land!!!

    • http://www.xen.co.za Hugh Robinson

      Please expalin why it is ” disingenuous” when there is a further 40% of land in the hands of tribal trust.

      All One has to do is take a drive into these areas and see the magnificent potential lying fallow.

    • Counting Costs

      ‘Lies, damned lies and flawed statistics”
      100% for an outstanding title which sums up an expose of solid facts about skewed ANC statistics …. which now. figuratively speaking, totally adds up!

    • ConCision

      The Ramification
      Of Land Repatriation
      According to ANC Specification
      The Non-Verification
      Of Land Claim Classification
      With Monetary Compensation
      – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      Illogical illustration
      Statistical simulation
      Logistical miscalculation
      Mathematical manipulation
      Numerical unsubstantiation

    • bernpm

      Poor old Dave, once again getting his facts confused in emotional froth.

    • The Creator

      You mean, Hugh, all we need to do is kick the current black occupants off their land and everything will be fine?

      How very Zimbabwean of you.

    • Tofolux

      @Saunders, wow I thought with this heading, we would have a ”lightbulb” moment and once again, all it turns out to be is an anti-black, anti-Anc rant. Allow me to put a sobre thought and break up your false hymn with a pure note. The land issue is a major issue in this country. Our land was stolen by a government and that govt gave our land away to its supporters ie the Nats. Now that we have fought for liberation in our country, we also need to liberate our land from those who stole it from us. We, in our forgiving mode, negotiated with those who stole the land to give it back to us and chose work on the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”. But what those who stole our land was to operate and act in “bad faith” (thats to be expected because bad faith seems to be so ingrained in the DNA) What Saunders forgets is that this land is not only prime land but ancestral land which belonged to communities as a whole. In criticising (to be expected and as always) you do not make ANY proposals or ANY counter proposals to the ANC policy. It is a given that when ppl criticise, they have better ideas or clearer clarity. So once again, this lightbulb moment is a huge dud. The issue however is that the stolen land must be returned. For those who want to be grumpy, so be it (who cares anyway). We just want our land back and you must go back to where you were before you stole the land. easy peasy.

    • The Critical Cynic

      It’s worthwhile giving Disraeli’s original quote to give this article more context
      “There are three types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

      Here we see that statistics are often just really well presented lies – the cynical statement that “x% of statistics are made up on the spot” is so very true. The stats quoted in the article don’t add up to Dave Hariris’ stats that
      beneficiaries of apartheid (BOAs) are now sitting on over 80% of PRIME LAND – a wonderful stat to throw in there as he still cannot really identify all these BOA’s, let alone what % of BOA’s own what (see my earlier comments regarding black BOA’s sitting in underserved government cadre positions as a result of what action exactly? ) jPrime land is also quite a subjective notion.

      So, we’ve stats probably so misleading they’re worthless until verified.. Statistical distortions already are and will continue to bedevil politics – that’s how Angie came up with an almost 74% pass rate for the matric class of 2012 – a valid, even impressive, stat if we only count the kids that actually made it to matric and wrote the final exams. The numbers and pass rate become completely unimpressive if you include all the kids that enrolled in Grade 1 for the 2012 matric year and take into account more than 50% dropped out before getting to matric. The ANC play similar games with university graduate stats, so why not land stats? As WSM points out – we actually just don’t know (just like the…

    • The Critical Cynic

      Showing your true colours are you – no tolerance or reconcilliation for you hey, rather its a case of “We just want our land back and you must go back to where you were before you stole the land. easy peasy”
      And if the SAN were to say this to you what would you do then? History says your people stole their land prior to the white colonialists arriving here….
      And when the land is given back should it be given back to a few tribal chiefs to lord over in feudal bliss?
      I suggest we go back far enough to the days when nobody owned land…

      In the meanwhile, here’s three more quotes from Disraeli for you to consider..

      The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.

      Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets. The rich and the poor.

      No government can be long secure without formidable opposition.

    • Stephen

      WSM makes the point that land distribution is necesary but the process needs to done efficiently. For that you need data. Lest those to should benefit ultimately do not. I am not talking about whitey keeping the land, but about those who in fact lived the land and who were forcibly removed. Rest assured, if a structured approach is not applied, those [blacks] in a position to do so will take advantage of the truly deserving [blacks]. I am not talking whiteys. Like what happened in Zim.

      @Tofolux: still raging for the regime I see.

      @ D Harris: quite sad that your ANC did not conduct a land audit at the outset. They alone know why. Almost criminal really.

    • Britney’s Spear

      @ CC.
      Yes, very revealing indeed.

      I applaud Tofolux for finally coming to her point i.e. white people have no place in South Africa (except maybe for Gillian).

      I commend her on coming out of the closet as a fully self-confessed Black Nationalist who believes in a wholesale race-based re-appropriation of land, space and wealth. Thank you. We now know exactly where you stand.

      The great stumbling block to this impressive revolutionary rhetoric of course is that it grieviously flouts the Bill of Rights and the negotiated settlement i.e. South African Constitution, where the civic and human rights of all South Africans (which inconveniently includes minorities) are enshrined.

      Hmmm, what to do?

      I am anticipating we will have to wade through more longwinded convoluted revolutionary double-speak before she explains succinctly the mechanisms by which this re-appropriation of resources will be achieved.

      But maybe she will surprise us all with clearly laid-out policy of how we are to
      1. deal with these cheeky devious melanotically challenged people with faulty DNA (wow! now there’s a truly breathtaking racist comment of substance you could really go to Con-court with! Are you paying attention, Brendan Shields?)

      2. re-appropriate her stolen land?

    • http://necrofiles.blogspot.com Garg Unzola

      @Britney’s Pears:
      Obviously the only thing wrong with apartheid was the skin colour of those cracking the whip.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Yep – Tofolux now revealed in all her ugly two-facedness as the racist black nationalist, with hints of Xenophobia on her lips. My question to the so-called non-racists out there is this – which do you depise more – a black racist or a white racist? (hint – your answer may not be based on your own race, you’d likely disqualify yourself. Oh, I forgot, you can’t answer a race based question)

      @Harris – if the ‘willing buyer willing seller’ model is such a gross insult to the majority, and as you and Tofolux keep pointing out it’s a really important point in the whole ‘redressing the past wrongs’ agenda, why did the ANC negotiate such a poor solution that “isn’t working” for them?
      When the ANC goes back on agreements do you just find some cultural angle to condone their dishonesty and their pattern of illogically explaining their lack of morals and ethical behaviour. You are backing the dishonest and time will prove just how corrupt a corpse the ANC have quickly become. Of course, such blind support is virtually impossible to give up without losing an enormous amount of face…

    • Mogale

      What has happened to the land audit promised by Rural Development by December last year? I suspect the results are not politically useful so are being massaged a bit more before releasing them.

    • Mr. Direct

      @Dave Harris:

      Love the qualifier that Indians should also be given their fair share of stolen land, although they only arrived in South Africa in 1860. Surely if they owned land up unitl 1913, this too would have been stolen from the original inhabitants of the country?

      Nothing against Indian people owning land at all, just trying to figure out your weird and wonderful logic on this topic….

      @Author – the logic of keeping this figure low confuses me. On one hand, they show that ownership change is under their targets and therefore they are failing, but on the other hand, it seems to imply that the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach is not working. Do you think this is to fuel a shift in policy?

    • ntozakhona


      What are you saying exactly?

    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      @Critical Cynic
      “why did the ANC negotiate such a poor solution that “isn’t working” for them”
      Well, ever head of the THIRD FORCE that Mandela spoke about during “negotiations”? That evil strategy employed by all oppressors when ultimately forced to relinquish power to the people. Speak to your friends in the National Party or their offspring – the DA.

      ” apartheid (BOAs) are now sitting on over 80% of PRIME LAND”
      So you suddenly don’t know who benefited from CENTURIES of colonialism and apartheid?
      You can’t distinguish PRIME real-estate from the apartheid ghettos? Maybe the height of the fences may be an indicator LOL

    • Mr. Direct

      @Dave Harris

      Do you also believe in aliens, ghosts, and the Tooth Fairy?

      How can an “oppressor” which was “ultimately forced to relinquish power to the people” still have the ability to negotiate that they keep “80% of the PRIME LAND”.

      Damn, they could not even negotiate a homeland in the Free State for themselves.