Land is the economy. All over the world, land is a critically sensitive issue because there is a connection between land, economic power and real freedom, writes Dr Motsoko Pheko as he examined the implications of President Jacob Zuma’s proposed Regulation of Land Holdings Bill in South Africa.
In his 2015 State of the Nation address South African President Jacob Zuma left a lasting impression on many, when he stated: “During this year of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, land has become one of the most critical factors in achieving redress for the wrongs of the past.” And he went on to propose that a new law, the Regulation Of Land Holdings Bill, will be tabled this year, which will set a ceiling for land ownership at a maximum of 12,000 hectares. Under the new law, which insiders believe will be fast-tracked to come into effect before the close of the year, foreign nationals will also not be allowed to own land in South Africa, while being eligible to take out long-term leases.
However, on examining the proposed bill, many questions arise, and need answers. Is it too little too late, 20 years since apartheid ended? What will happen to land that foreigners have already bought? Why did the ANC leaders abandon the land question in 1955 and raise it only now? Why was the equitable redistribution of land not even mentioned during the “negotiations” with the apartheid colonialist regime? Why did the ANC accept a constitution that provided a “property clause” in Section 25, which only benefitted those who had acquired land colonially and not those colonially dispossessed of their land for over three hundred years? Why did the constitution of the “New South Africa” allow land claims from after June 1913 and yet 87% of the land was colonially expropriated long before this date?
In his address President Zuma also added: “Last year, we reopened the second window of opportunity for the lodgement of land claims. More than 36,000 land claims have been lodged nationally and the cut-off date is 2019. We are also exploring the 50/50 policy framework, which proposes relative rights for people who live and work on farms. Fifty farming enterprises will be identified as a pilot project.”
How the ticking time-bomb began
Cicero, a Roman historian and philosopher, once wrote: “To remain ignorant of things before you were born is to remain a child.” And Dr Antony Muziwakhe Lembede, the first President of the 1912 ANC Youth League, under whom people like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu served, also once advised: “One who wants to create a future must not forget the past.” Indeed people who ignore historical facts are like a doctor who constantly deals with the symptoms of the disease, instead of curing the disease itself. The unresolved land question in South Africa is a ticking bomb and the problem is so huge in the country, such that there is now not enough land for Africans to bury their dead. The ANC government is persuading communities to accept cremation or to be buried on top of other people. This in a country where by culture, Africans inter their dead in the land. The land problem in South Africa (a country that is not only rich, but four times the size of Britain and Northern Ireland combined) started with the Berlin Act of 26 February 1885 in the name of what the colonialists said was spreading “civilisation”. This pseudo-civilisation was followed by a British colonial law called the Union of South Africa Act 1909. Its main aim was to unite the four British colonies of Cape, Natal, Transvaal and Orange Free State to fight the “native danger” (African resistance against European colonialism). The Act immediately legalised racial discrimination against Africans. Within four years of the Union of South Africa Act, the colonial parliament, with the approval of the British government, passed the racist colonial law which allocated over 5 million Africans 7% of their own country; and gave 93% of the African land to 349,837 European colonial settlers. This was done through the Native Land Act 1913.
Writer Sol Plaatje, who was also the first Secretary of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) explained why this law was made. “In the beginning of the last decade [of the 19th century], there was panic among white farmers because it was found that some Natives had garnered three thousand bags of wheat and another sixteen hundred…in a neighbourhood where their white neighbours reaped only 300 to 400 bags. ‘Where will we get servants?’ it was asked, ‘if Kaffirs are allowed to become skilled…let them improve their master’s [whites’] cattle and cultivate for [the white] land owner – not for themselves.’”
Denials and Jan Smuts
There are lots of denials about the land dispossession of the African people in South Africa. But there are a few white people who have been honest about it. Surprisingly one of them is Jan Smuts – the former Prime Minister of apartheid South Africa: “The mistake we have made in South Africa in the past, was our failure in not reserving sufficient land for the future of the rapidly increasing natives…” he confessed in a 1930 book, J.C. Smuts, Africa and Some World Problems.
In June 1955, despite the overwhelming evidence of colonial land dispossession from the African people, the Freedom Charter, which Zephania Mothopeng, a veteran of the African liberation struggle in South Africa called “notorious”, emerged. Chief Albert Luthuli, who was the President of the 1912 ANC, wrote in his book, Let My People Go: “The Freedom Charter is open to criticism…I can only speak vaguely about the preparations that went before it… The result is that the declaration is UNEVEN.”
The Freedom Charter split the liberation movement. Pan-Africanists rejected the preamble in the Charter. Sobukwe called it, “a colossal fraud ever perpetrated upon the exploited and degraded people. It clearly bears the stamp of its origin. It is a product of the slave mentality and colonialist orientation.”
It emerged later that the main purpose of the Freedom Charter was to derail the land question and it succeeded in doing so because by 1955, the ANC had completely abandoned the land question.
Fast-forward to 1991, and the ANC’s “negotiations” at CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) helped create the “New South Africa” with 87% of land still in the hands of the white minority.
It is interesting therefore that it is only now, in 2015, when indigenous people cannot even find a place to bury their dead, that the president of the ANC-led “New South Africa” raises the land question, yet dispossession was inherited from the apartheid government 21 years ago, in a country full of gold and diamond fields, yet beset with millions of landless poor who all happened to be black South Africans.
I was a member of the South African parliament for ten years. On behalf of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, I made many speeches on the land question. Here is an extract from one: “Chairman, because of my limited speaking time, I will talk only about the mother – the land and not the daughter – agriculture (Laughter). The budget vote on land and agriculture is the most important to the majority poor and landless of our country. The Pan Africanist Congress supports this budget, but we repeat that there will never be enough money to buy back our own land, even after all prescribed land claims have been met. The land question will not go away. If the ANC government can get only one thing right in the task of undoing apartheid, it has to be the equitable redistribution of land and its riches… The present land policy, however, has failed because its architects have ignored the history of colonial land dispossession. Land is the economy. All over the world land is a critically sensitive issue because there is [a] connection between land and economic power and true liberation….Meanwhile land is being sold to foreigners while its rightful owners do not have even a piece of land for decent homes. This parliament must make a law to stop this foolishness.”
I said it so then, I say so today.