Current Affairs

Crying wolf over S African land reform

Crying wolf over S African land reform
  • PublishedApril 1, 2018

The long-simmering issue of land redistribution in South Africa is heading towards a resolution and already the knives are out, threatening the country with doom and gloom should it go ahead. By Baffour Ankomah 

At long last South Africa, sold a dream in 1994 but given a nightmare, is coming to grips with something it has run away from for 24 years: the land issue. On 27 February, the country’s Parliament voted 241 to 83 to change Section 25 of the constitution, which deals with property, to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

The overwhelming vote allowed Parliament to instruct a committee to review the constitution and report back to it by 30 August 2018. The process is meant to speed up land redistribution, a subject that had often been paid lip service by previous governments since apartheid was defeated in 1994.

This time, thanks to political pressure exerted by Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, the ever-ruling but fearful ANC (fearful as far as this matter is concerned) has found courage to pass a resolution (at its 54th congress in December 2017) to accelerate land redistribution, a decision that strengthened the hand of the new state President, Cyril Ramaphosa, to announce in his inaugural State Of the Nation Address (SONA) on 16 February that the government would accelerate land redistribution.

“We will handle this matter in the way we’ve always handled difficult issues in our country: by dialogue‚ discussion‚ engagement‚ until we find good solutions that will take our country forward‚” Ramaphosa said, adding: “We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security, and ensure that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.”

Not surprisingly, Ramaphosa’s reasonableness has been met with alarmist reactions by some white groups and individuals inside and outside the country, whose comments, if not toned down, might push South Africa’s downtrodden majority blacks into actions that could spell disaster for the country.

For example, Janice Atkinson, the British member of the European Parliament who represents the smallest group in Brussels, the right-wing, pro-Brexit Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), has no business putting her nose into the South Africa land issue by imprudently attacking Malema and calling him “a dangerous individual who encourages farm terror and murder”.

On the very day the SA Parliament voted to change Section 25 of the constitution, Atkinson, who claimed to be a regular visitor to the country and knows about its “troubled history for years”, wrote to the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to intervene in the land issue, on the grounds that expropriation without compensation could not be achieved without harming food security and economic growth.

Alarmist reactions

“I fail to see how this can be implemented to safeguard the above and also to avoid more farm raids, torture and murders, which are already happening,” Atkinson said.

She then added alarmingly: “Boris, South Africa is on the brink of becoming another Zimbabwe. Indeed‚ South African parliamentarian Dr Corne Mulder – an architect of the current South African constitution – fears that leading up to and after the May 2019 general election‚ South Africa could slip into a Rwandan situation‚ bypassing the Zimbabwe analogy altogether.”

Atkinson went on to cite cultural links between Britain and South Africa and claimed that this gave London a “duty” to intervene in the land issue. “[Given] Our cultural links‚ trading partnership and as a Commonwealth member‚ it is our duty to step in and mediate,” she claimed. “For far too long, the hard left of the ANC has been taking control‚ their policies shaped by the EFF because they are losing votes to the EFF’s rhetoric of hate‚ divisive racism and a promise to under-educated South Africans that all will be well if they just take the white people’s farms and businesses‚” Atkinson concluded.

It is rich, very rich indeed, to hear this coming from the lips of a woman who is an ex-representative of the immigrant-hating UK Independence Party (UKIP) and now represents a right-wing group in Brussels whose own ‘divisive racism’ cries to high heaven! Atkinson’s ‘Zimbabwean analogy’ and alarmist ‘Rwandan situation’ citation are even worse.

Crucially, she appears to have forgotten the disastrous nature of the British intervention in the Zimbabwean land issue, right from its inception in 2000, and how the ‘British intervention’ gave birth to all sorts of demons that have consigned Zimbabwe, a country of 13m people, to 18 years of utter hell. Now Atkinson wants that hell to be exported across the Limpopo River because of ‘cultural links’ (read kith and kin interests). Please leave the South Africans alone to sort out their problem.

Nobody should be fooled by Atkinson’s sophistry, especially when the figures are so loud in condemnation of the few who occupy South Africa’s prime lands. According to statistics, only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people since apartheid was defeated in 1994, representing just 9.8% of the 82m hectares of arable land in the country, of which 72%, please let me repeat, 72%, remains in white hands.

And there are only five million whites in the country, who make up just 8.9% of South Africa’s 56.5m population. Apparently they see no wrong with the current land tenure system, which explains why the government’s longstanding willing-buyer, willing-seller land reform programme has had little traction for the past 24 years.

But the “grave historical injustice” (to borrow President Ramaphosa’s words) which has festered since Jan van Riebeeck, the Dutch navigator and colonial administrator, arrived in the country at the command of the Dutch East India Company on 6 April 1652, has to be corrected, no matter whose ox is gored.

To try to use the ‘Zimbabwean analogy’ to frighten South Africans into inaction, or even employ the lie that Zimbabweans took their land back from white hands and allowed the farms to go to ruin, won’t work because South Africa’s downtrodden know that it is a lie being used by whites with vested interests to dissuade South Africa and Namibia from redressing the very serious land issues in the two countries.

Genie out of the bottle

Unfortunately for people like Janice Atkinson and her ilk, the genie is out of the bottle in South Africa, and very soon the closed eyes of the Namibians will open and justice will be served in that country as well. Today even the fearful ANC “recognises that the current policy instruments, including the willing-buyer willing-seller policy and other provisions of Section 25 of the constitution may be hindering effective land reform”. The ruling Swapo party in Namibia will not be far behind and docile forever.

Which speaks to the fact that the elaborate international effort by people of European descent to stop land redistribution in Southern Africa by punishing Zimbabwe with sanctions and inducing economic failure in Mugabe’s country as a way of frightening South Africa and Namibia into inaction on the land issue, has failed.

Already a lot of arguments, some bordering on sheer sophistry, have been advanced to show how expropriation without compensation will not work in South Africa. Not blessed with deep pockets to pay for land compensation in its entirety, Ramaphosa’s government will have to grow large ears to listen to all the arguments and decide for itself.

Remarkably, no such arguments were advanced when the whites seized the land from the blacks. They did it willy-nilly. Today the blacks, whose ancestral land was stolen by the whites, have to consider how expropriation without compensation will affect the economy and a banking/financial industry exposed to white farming debt. Poor blacks. Heads or tails, we lose. But we should press on. We have only our chains to lose now. NA

Written By
Baffour Ankomah

Baffour Ankomah is New African's current Editor at Large. He has spent much of his 39 years of journalism at the magazine, having served as its Assistant Editor for 6 years, Deputy Editor for 5 years, and Editor for 15 years, retiring from active service in 2014. In 39 years of his journalism career - Africa and his many causes have been his passion. His personal column, Baffour's Beefs, which has been running continuously in New African since 1987, is a big hit and a must-read for the magazine's worldwide readers. He is now based in Zimbabwe, where he and his wife Elizabeth run their own media consultancy and fashion house called "African Interest" which trades under the trademark "I am African".

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