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Land justice is at half-mast in South Africa

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA) – Community members and EFF leader Julius Malema embark on land expropriation protests. The ANC has not changed the lay of the land or brought even a small measure of land justice for black South Africans, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

If the government’s outlandish 100-metre-tall flag project does go ahead, it may as well be the old South African flag that is hoisted into the rainbow skies. For the nation’s land is still in white hands.

The 2017 Land Audit shows that 72% of farmland is owned by white South Africans; 15% by coloured people; 5% by Indians; and 4% by Africans. That such a miniature portion of land is owned by black South Africans is a thunderous signal that the ANC has betrayed its people. It is hard to believe that the ANC was a once-upon-a-time liberation movement so rooted in the noble struggle against colonial and apartheid land theft.

In his book ‘Land Matters’, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, writes “postcolonial societies must grapple with redress. A usual feature of colonial conquest is the dislocation of conquered people from their land. South Africa’s indigenous people are no exception.” The ANC’s goal of reaching 30% of black land ownership within the first five years of democracy has proved to be a “lucy in the sky with diamonds” hallucination.

The cursive script of the 1997’s White Paper on Land has become increasingly limp and almost illegible in the ANC’s ever-obliging curtsey to white power. And the Cinderella Constitution has yet to have delivered any magic moment for land justice.

In its 28 years of governance, the ANC has not changed the lay of the land or brought even a small measure of land justice for black South Africans. By not adequately conquering its colonial past, the governing party has kept black South Africans in the punishing chains of economic dispossession, and dependency. And it seems as if the ANC is in no hurry to change the ever-green preserve of white power.

The white palaces and black pits of democratic South Africa, the palisade of white privilege in the parade of phantom racial parity, is the pathos of realpolitik, which pariahs the very people it is said to serve.

Whites have been kept very cosy in the Rainbow Nation, lording over the economy and land, while black South Africans remain in cramped, congested crevices on their own land, and in the side-alley of an economy from which they remain dislodged. Land justice is nowhere in sight.

The late Dr Vuyokazi Mahlati, Chairperson of the Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture wrote in the final Report of the panel to the President submitted in May 2019, that “the 25-year experience of slow land reform has shown us that tinkering does not work, and reconciliation efforts within an environment of inequality, poverty and unemployment cannot bear fruit”.

The Panel, therefore, advocates for clarity of vision and outcomes and a future where land ownership must approximate the demographic of the country informed by critical levers such as coherent, coordinated good governance and capable and well-resourced institutions supported by skilled and capable officials who are focused and determined to implement policies for the benefit of the people.”

Mahlati continued, “Mr President, as the Panel we believe that our country has to face the reality that our colonial and apartheid past, as well as the current inequality perpetuating economic trajectory, has excluded many from the mainstream.”

In a 2018 opinion piece, in “Land Delayed is Land Denied,” I wrote “I do not foresee the ANC touching white land.” I foresee incidences of land expropriation without compensation but not of ‘white’ held land. Watch this space! I sincerely hope I am wrong. What I know for sure is that it is time for the ANC to do the right thing – to ensure the speedy return of all stolen land to black South Africans.

The ANC’s 2017 policy conference had provided a glimpse of hope for land justice with its expropriation without compensation resolution, but this was never to be under the watchtower of Ramaphosa’s administration. Last week’s ANC policy conference saw the miniaturisation of the land issue.

In his piece entitled “ANC policy on land reform betrays radical vision of our constitution” in the Sunday Times of July 31, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi wrote “Covering only two pages in the 187-page policy proposals, the land reform section distorts existing ANC policy on land reform in fundamental respects. And this is a mark of regression on the already imperilled land reform programme of the state.” Ngcukaitobi suggests that the entire two pages be scrapped and rewritten.

In the monopoly of power, the land game of Ramaphosa has confirmed my long-held view that white land will not be touched. Rather the constitution of the land reform programme is a tepid blend of state land and land donation. The government will hand out incentives to farmers, mining houses and churches, among others, to donate land for redistribution.

The issue of land donation, which was a proposal of the Presidential advisory panel on Land Reform and agriculture, was in my view, never intended to be the centrepiece in the new trajectory of land reform, but simply part of the land reform and land justice toolkit. The supersizing of land donations and its pride of place in the land reform programme is a real-time of the government’s responsibility to deal with the crucial land question.

The ANC has become complicit in keeping black people dispossessed of land. As they fiddle with the land question, the ANC government must take culpability too for the endless cycle of loss of life and dignity as black mothers and young children continue to perish in the flames of shack fires and as young black girls struggle for poise in the everyday cramp of living in congestion crevices.

Ngcukaitobi is correct when he writes in Land Matters that “the return of the land of African people is a shattered dream. A new reality is emerging – not controlled from the centre but springing from the ground, asking difficult questions about the unfinished business of the liberation struggle: until and unless there is a confrontation with the negotiated settlement of the transitional period, it is impossible to speak of freedom, equality and dignity, values that we cherish.”

Land justice is at half-mast in South Africa. The great PAC leader, writer and thought leader, Dr Motsoko Pheko wrote, “Africans are demanding what is theirs in the first place to be restored and returned to them so that they can once again repossess this precious national asset of their ancestors which colonialists so brutally ravaged and looted”.

Pheko wrote,” a “liberation” that compromises the land question, is a fake. It mistakes African magnanimity for imbecility.”

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

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.