By Thabang Matona
All the pillars of South Africa’s Constitution stand on the firm foundation laid by thousands of brave men and women who gathered in Kliptown on the historical day of the 26th of June 1950. These women and men gathered to proclaim and pledge towards the South Africa that they would fight for. Some of the top declarations made on that day were, “The People Shall Share the County’s Wealth” and “The Land Shall Be Shared Amongst Those That Work It”. The ideals of these women and men still represent the shared vision of all South Africans today and explains why the cup of the Freedom Charter was simply poured into what became the Constitution of the Rainbow Nation when it was adopted by the first democratically elected government.
Many previously oppressed South Africans woke up on the early morning of the 27th of April 1994 to cheerfully stand in long queues so they may vote for the very first democratic government. A lot of them cast their very first vote with the image of a new dawn for their country in mind; a Rainbow Nation, where they would get what was refused to them by the cruel and unjust apartheid regime. Although South Africa has made great strides in progressing social, judicial and economic structures, very little has been done to heal the scars left by the deliberate economic injustice of apartheid. This is most evident when the matter of land ownership in South Africa is brought up. The most recent land audit by the Ministry of Rural Development of South Africa revealed that of all privately owned land, over 80% of it is owned by white people. This, put into retrospect means that the non-white community, which constitutes about 90% of South Africa’s population owns just below 20% of the privately owned land in this country. These figures sound ridiculous until we take a little dive into historical archives and discover the Native Land Act of 1913. This act was the first step in the establishment of systems that prevented non-white South Africans from actively partaking in economic development through usage of land. It paved the path for the ultimate dispossession of many South Africans by restricting black land ownership (almost 90% of the population) to only 10% of the nation’s land mass. In preceding years, historical phases like the Sophiatown forced removals and Group Areas Act of 1950 were displayed to the world by the unapologetically oppressive apartheid regime.
A few years ago, the most typical measure of South Africa’s still existent, racial inequality was poverty levels along the racial lines – with the black community generally falling below the poverty line. However, in 2013, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) immerged with the sole mission of “fighting for the economic emancipation of “African” people in South Africa”. The EFF quickly and surprisingly gained a lot of popularity amongst South Africans – particularly young South Africans. The political party built up the momentum that made “Expopriation of Land without Compensation” a conversation that could never be missed in political discussions all over the country. They managed to convince a large population of South Africans that the current land redress policies in the holy grail of this nation – the constitution – were not radical enough to fight for the rights of black people.
Quite a number of times in the two decades since South Africa become a democratic state, there were conversations about land reform however none were ever as publicly nationwide as this current one. Before we can understand why this conversation has become one of such public interest, we need to first understand what comprises of the political party that has advocated and championed for the expropriation of land without compensation. The current head of the EFF is a man who played massive roles in the removal of the past two presidents of South Africa from office. The executive committee also comprises of one of the top advocates who represented the Marikana workers (stood on the side of human rights and justice) during the Marikana Massacre Inquiries. Therefore, it makes sense that political organisations in this country needed to take the demands of the EFF for radical land reform policies that favoured black people seriously as they were getting thousands of South Africans to rally behind them. President Ramaphosa had a very unique and overwhelming challenge to face in the first few months as the new president of South Africa. He had to clean up after the former president Jacob Zuma while dealing with the mounting public pressure to form a stance on the very heated question of land.
The image of a South Africa that has its land and wealth fairly distributed as declared in our Freedom Charter is an ideal that sounds pleasant to many South Africans, especially those that have been dispossessed and oppressed by history. This is an ideal that most South Africans hope to live to see and will be the ultimate proof that this beautiful nation has finally managed to truly end segregation and blur racial lines with regards to economic emancipation, that the wounds left by apartheid will be healed. This is the beautiful dream that the EFF is fighting towards. According to the EFF, all privately owned land in South Africa should be state-owned. All of it, taken without compensation to the current owners. This land will then be leased by the government to anyone who has the best intentions for the usage of the land for a period of 25 years. The lease will be reinstated after the 25 years should the user continue to find use for the land. The manifestos of the EFF state that the political party is fighting for the economic emancipation of black people from the tight grasp of neo-colonialism. However, if land is leased to the most competent users of it, the white minority that has had lifetimes of experience using the land will most likely be able to keep the land while the black, inexperienced community stays with no land. Again, the EFF claims that land should be owned by “the African people”. This is a bit contradictory to their intentions of land expropriation because land owned by the state means “the African people”, as the EFF would say, stay landless!
The fears voiced by many experts are that the idea behind land expropriation without compensation is not entirely clear. No one really knows what part of the land will be expropriated, who it will be expropriated to and how it will be expropriated. The President of the EFF, Julius Malema, was quoted saying that South Africans should simply “occupy the land” they want to be in. Since then, a few incidences of attempted ‘land grabs’ have occurred. The other fear is based on a reflection from lessons of history. A quick backtrack to the year 2000 in the neighbouring nation of Zimbabwe sets a frightening yet possible course of events for the Republic of South Africa should our government fall into the “radical” rush of land expropriation. Zimbabwe’s hasty attempt to reclaim ownership of land and award it to the black community proved to be a fatal blow to the country’s economy which has been in a state of instability ever since.
Why did the attempt to expropriate land fail in Zimbabwe? The first reason is because country had no clear plan. The community of Zimbabweans that were being offered this land had absolutely no means to use it in ways that would greatly benefit the economy. Secondly, by offering the land to a specific group of people and cutting off the opportunity for another group of people, Zimbabwe alienated itself from the global diplomatic spheres and was thus a sole actor in a global ecosystem that can only work through collaboration.
Now back to South Africa in 2018 – where does this land expropriation without compensation position the Republic of South Africa within the global diplomatic spheres? The simple response to that can be found on twitter. The current president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump, took a stab on the not-so-factual news reports that this subject is causing. The international community is viewing South Africa’s land expropriation without compensation conversation as a tactic against white land owners in South Africa. Donald Trump referenced the alleged killings of white farmers in his reaction to what is happening in South Africa. What stands to be a more important international relations concern which is based on very factual information, unlike what President Trump refers to, is the issue of property rights infringement that this “radical policy” stand causes. Major investors in South Africa’s land activities such as agriculture are at a position of uncertainty which is having a negative effect on the country’s currency. Potential investors are becoming more and more reluctant in investing in the purchase of South African land for economic development purposes because the law could change any moment and revoke them of their ownership.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Republic of South Africa needs to come to a point where the unequal ownership of land that is due to an unjust history is eradicated. However, this cannot be done with the proposed land expropriation policy in its current form. There still needs to be a lot of conversation around how the land will be distributed in a way that most importantly does not infringe on the rights currently stipulated in the Constitution and does not favour one group of people over the other like apartheid did. The line between progressive restructuring of society and emotionally driven reverse racism is very thin, South Africa needs to thread carefully before we fall onto the same path that our neighbour Zimbabwe walks on today.
Article edited by : Moitse Kemelo Moatshe
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