The land question in South Africa.

Awaking on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself , not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.

Sol Plaatjie, 1964.

South Africa, stormy waters, or just a ripple? Well, you have heard the news fake and real but the issue at hand is contentious. People’s lives have been affected and are still being affected. There are three sides to the story. There are those who came, saw and conquered and then those who were there saw and were conquered. Then there is the rest of you, mere observers, side-takers and social media commentators and you matter the least in the struggle at hand. Writers have come forward with their informed views on this issue and one such letters person is R.A. Makhado a researcher who submitted an article with the Limpopo Legislature back in 2012. In summary, he points out a reason for the slow redistribution of land to millions who are landless, to be a lack of infrastructure and money. In the article(2012) he points out that over 3 million hectares were delivered through tenure programmes between ’94 and ’12 and over a couple of millions of hectares were settled through land restitution programme. As for the one process being advocated for by many, the willing buyer, willing seller, it has proven to be really a non-starter as land-owners are unwilling to let go of their land, even for money.

It is common knowledge that the African natives were removed from their productive lands despite what we have been told by revisionists that they did not practice any agriculture. If they didn’t where did the practice for the ceremonies of Umvukela come from? This was part of an elaborate social security system which worked quite well in pre-colonial times where¬†there were no beggars existing. That’s a story for another day. The year was 1913, in South Africa, blacks were kicked off their fertile ancestral homes to basically poor soil areas. The Natives Act enabled the colonial government to commit this atrocity which began what the South Africans are trying to rectify today. It is common knowledge that during Apartheid, yes, it is quite relevant for this discussion, that blacks were highly discriminated against and couldn’t own or lease land. Therefore if you do the mathematics, you would come to a result showing that blacks had no land and what they had was infertile sandy soils useless for anything. Taxes were levied upon them and to raise money to pay those taxes, they had to resort to working for white farmers who had their land.

Jan Van Riebeek was instrumental in the beginning of today’s contentious issue in the present day of South Africa, the dispossession of land from its rightful owners. There are many who today, have various reasons and explanations as to why the decision to reallocate land without compensation for the beneficiaries of a system that was born out of blood and pain of blacks who are still mostly marginalized in the country today. Statistics aside, a mere observation of the society will provide sufficient information with regards to that aspect. Workers on white owned farms have been receiving meagre wages until the labor department of South Africa made some changes in the positive, by mandating an increase of the wages of these workers at the beginning March 2018 and progressively to 2019 by 5.6%. There are quite several stories if one would care to scrap around for them, of farm workers of the country barely making it with the meagre wages they are paid. Across the board, many workers are underpaid, remember the Marikana massacre of 2012? Well, back to the land question, the Dutch East India Company felt it their role to authorize Riebeek and his party to dispossess the Khoikhoi and the San, whom some Boers are so adamant to say were or aren’t the ones crying for their bits of their land taken away in that era. 1806, the British overtook the Dutch at the Cape colony and this sparked further expansion inland. The Boers weren’t happy with their rule at the colony and trekked further inland and ironically they went on to rule native South Africans subjecting them to one of the harshest systems of rule ever known to man. Years laters, as many know, the Africans did fight for their independence but the Boer system had captured all the economic facets which they held on to, up to this day, mostly, including large tracts of land which they do not want to yield. Exclusion of blacks through legislative means is perhaps a matter that the beneficiaries of a system today are not fully acknowledging because if they do, they therefore can begin to have a proper discussion without being senselessly adamant.

The land was stolen, fought for and even through sketchy treaties such as those that were used to trick one Afro king in the North, present day Zimbabwe, Lobengula into signing away his kingdom without knowing he was doing so. What followed was the beginning of the colonization of the kingdoms of AmaNdebele and VaKaranga and many others, being consolidated into Rhodhesia, named after Cecil Rhodes. What people are talking about mostly today are the effects of what South Africa might become, like Zimbabwe, casting aside the role of the rest of the world, mostly the developed countries, which leaned in on Zimbabwe heavily with sanctions, crippling the nation which stood resilient. South Africa is seeking to redress the Land Act of 1913 and if anything, Zimbabwe could chirp in with some special counsel and Africa sees to it that this issue is resolved without realizing the wishes of the naysayers.

The question, therefore, is, given the background, is it right to redistribute land? Is it proper to right a past wrong? Are there any people in South Africa who have had an unfair advantage economically over others? According to Makhado’s findings, a mere 10% of South African whites owned a massive 87% of the productive land in the country. Again, do the maths and you will reach a conclusion that 13% of the land was then left for the 90%. Any sane human would see something amiss with that ratio (That’s not what Makhado wrote, I did). Had this question not been brought up, many thanks to the vehemence of the EFF and Julius Malema, then South Africa’s proposition in ’96 in its new constitution for equality and freedom would have remained false. It still is, until implementation and correction of this issue. South Africa’s northern neighbors bit the bullet and did it, although haphazardly and for political reasons. Mugabe was pressured into it although it had been something on his table for a considerable time and Britain went Judas on the agreements they had with Zimbabwe and that’s a story for another day. The South African government, on the other hand, has been trying to redistribute land the proper way for those with gory stories about this issue. It set out to redistribute 30% of the 87% through the willing seller principle (2012) which is really respectful and mindful of the fact that people’s livelihoods are at stake although those dispossessed initially weren’t compensated. That’s where many people get it wrong, crying about the so-called atrocities and yet, forgetting the fate of those initially stripped of their land. People have short memories sometimes. However, because of the constraints, the programme has met with as pointed above, there hasn’t been much ground covered with regards to redistributing the land. In addition to those established constraints, there are issues such as beneficiary selection (2012) wherewith the question of who really deserves the land plays a role in the delay. There are also squabbles within the political formations in the country and all hold differing views for issues such as this. It is also noteworthy to point out that there are disputes between communities which hinder progress for this initiative and many other constraints that you would know of if you are familiar with the dynamics of the land.

There are very interesting points raised in Makhado’s viewpoints which do entail a successful land redistribution programme. These include proper policy implementation, partner participation, local and international, proper budgeting by the government. There is also what probably Zimbabwe had, political will, which many countries in Africa do fear because of the international community which is usually biased’s reaction. Zimbabwe learnt this the hard way when it was slapped with sanctions left, right and center. The author also offers some foresight. In order to succeed in this endeavor, a group of beneficiaries need to be carefully chosen and perhaps equipped to utilize the land in the most efficient way because it has been a while since people owned land, 1913 is quite a bit of years. There are nature conservation ways practiced by the forefathers of Africa which may have today been forgotten by the children of these ancient farmers. Today the resettled people would have to be enrolled in programmes that help them to practice sustainable ways of farming which bring to the community development.

The land question is not South Africa’s alone. All African countries need to look into this and ensure that redress of past atrocities against people whose lives were disrupted resulting in the gross imbalances we witness today. Waiting for a green light from the world might result in waiting forever. Meanwhile, large chunks of populations continue to suffer and there can only be an amount of suffering which in the end will reach a boiling point. When that happens, let no one claim they knew it had to be done and said nothing.

There is one funny thing that I have noticed in the world today. When some Europeans are taking nationalistic standpoints, wanting the removal of all who don’t have anything to do with their countries, many loud-hail this development. Africans are benevolent, or weak, and I am not insinuating anything here, but if Africa collectively manages what belongs to her, making sure it benefits her children directly, this western migration thing becomes history and great many things can come out of it. South Africa needs not to be alone like Zimbabwe was, a lonely child in a playground surrounded by bullies. As a result, Zimbabwe made so many mistakes but soldiered through. A horrible repetition of what happened initially, when the Europeans were dispossessing locals of their land happened to their descendants which certainly wasn’t a good nor righteous thing to do. South Africa needs to avoid bloodshed and undue suffering of anyone, that is why this economic lopsidedness needs to be addressed in the proper way and all African countries, were it my call, have to render help to one of ours.