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Land expropriation: A Fallacy in South Africa and a deep fault line for the ANC government

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Pictures: Bheki Radebe – The Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR) lead by MEC Nonkqubela Pieters, left, visits farmers in Ngqushwa, October 25, 2022. The Expropriation Bill before the NCOP does not go far enough in restoring land to Black people because it focuses on state-held land, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

The Expropriation Bill is once again under consideration by Parliament. The Bill was adopted by the National Assembly in September last year, the public comment period is coming to a close in early March, and the Bill is before the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). If passed by the NCOP, the Bill will be sent to the President to be signed into law.

The Bill allows for the expropriation of property for public purpose and in the public interest. Provisions and procedures for expropriation, both with compensation and without compensation will be regulated. Land expropriation in democratic South Africa, looks like it will be an orderly and consultative process, unlike the brutal smash and land grab of colonial and apartheid times.

The Bill refers to certain instances “where the provision of nil compensation may be just and equitable for expropriation in the public interest”. That the Bill provides for expropriation without compensation under some circumstances, has put the fear of God into landowners.

However, with the Bill’s focus on unused state-owned land, white held land is unlikely to be touched. This despite the fact that much of this land was taken forcefully from black South Africans under colonialism and apartheid.

Andile Mngxitama, president of the Black First, Land First political party has written prolifically on land. “You can’t understand SA without understanding the land question”, Mngxitama writes, “and to understand the land question you must go back to 1652, when Jan van Riebeek arrived and murdered people, and took our land by force and turned SA into what it is today, where white people are the lords and black people the tenants.”

As one would expect, white political parties, and right wing and conservative civil society groupings, are fervently against the Expropriation Bill and have their best to create roadblocks to its enactment. This, even though the Bill is a watered down and narrowed version of the land expropriation position that got the green light at the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec conference. The leader of political party, FF Plus, Pieter Groenewald called the Expropriation Bill the “Destruction Bill” arguing that the Bill undermined private ownership, a crucial pillar of democracy. The FF Plus leader appears to be less concerned about the plight of the landless majority.

Deputy President of South Africa spoke of how the Expropriation Bill will help to correct historical injustices, reinstate land rights, boost food security in the long-term and usher in equitable land rights.

But in its current rather diluted form, the Bill hardly provides the requisite redress required to right the wrongs of the historical large scale land dispossession of black South Africans – not by a revolutionary mile.

During last year’s Parliamentary session on the Expropriation Bill, in the National Assembly, the EFF’s Mathapelo Siwisa argued that the Expropriation Bill does not venture into the real territory of land justice; that is, the large-scale redistribution of land acquired by force by white settlers to the rightful owners; black South Africans.

Siwasa raises the concern that the land under consideration for expropriation is unlikely to be prime, productive land. The EFF’s Member of Parliament described the Bill as a “hideous piece of sell-out legislation” which would leave “land owned by whites untouched”. We reject this bill and call on our supporters to see the ANC for what it is, a staunch defender of white landowners.” said the EFF’s Siwisa.

Siwisa is correct. The ANC’s land policies have veered away from returning land to black South Africans. The commitment of the ANC to address the question of land dispossession, inequalities, and usher in justice for those dispossessed of their land, has yet to come into fruition, despite groves of abundant opportunities and a constitutional and legislative framework to do just that.

Almost three decades into democracy, the ANC has failed has to make any meaningful inroads in reversing the historical legacy of landlessness and poverty. The desperate horizon of black landlessness, and poverty, is today’s New Dawn, as it was in the yesteryear of white rule. It is an everyday reminder of the failure of the governing party to right the wrongs of the past and birth a more equitable and just society.

Democracy in South Africa has proved to be a sorry state for black South Africans who have been afforded little access to the country’s wealth; land, minerals, natural resources, and economy remain largely in white hands. It is shameful that 30 years into democracy, black South Africans own less land today (4%) than they did in 1913, when the Land Act came into force, limiting black land ownership to just 7 percent.

Andile Mngxitama has written of how the land question is not only significant, but that “it is fundamental in the identity of a people.”

But for President Cyril Ramaphosa, this does not seem to be his world view. In his recent SONA “I am not an African” address, he said: “We are a nation defined not by the oceans and rivers that form the boundaries of our land. We are not defined by the minerals under our earth or the spectacular landscape above it”. The President continued: “We are, at our most essential, a nation defined by hope and resilience…. it was hope that sustained our struggle for freedom, and it is hope that swells our sails as we steer our country out of turbulent waters and into calmer seas.”

For a landless people, hope is a totally inadequate answer. The inability or lack of will to resolve the land question is a huge fault line of the ANC, it will be at the very centre of its legacy as a government that has failed its people.

The millions of black South Africans who live in the violent congestion and cramp of overcrowded communities is a daily pictorial of the ANC’s failure. That black South Africans are expected to champion and celebrate a nation that they literally have no part of exposes both the fallacy of land expropriation and the Rainbow Nation itself.

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.