The Land Act of 1913 is the root of all the poverty in South Africa. Starting from 1652 when Dutch settlers landed on the southern tip of Africa, followed by the French Huguenots, then Germans, and finally the British, the lives of indigenous Africans on their own land would not be the same. One hundred years on from the Act, the blacks, still without the land, have become even poorer. Pusch Commey reports
Once successful farmers, the black people of South Africa were gradually reduced to low-wage labourers over the centuries as the new settlers from Europe, basically the Dutch, the French Huguenots, the Germans, and the British dispossessed them of their land via the obnoxious Land Act of 1913. One hundred years later, another dramatic Land Act (of 19 June 2013) was promulgated by a black majority government to mark the centenary of the notorious 1913 Act.
The motivation would always be money. The more powerful British waged war on the other white factions in 1899 over land and resources, when the southern tip of Africa proved to be rich in diamonds and gold.
When the Anglo/Boer war came to an end in 1902, the victorious British made peace with their fellow Europeans, now culturally fused to become Afrikaners (Dutch, Germans and French Huguenots). The 1910 South African Act brought into being the Union of South Africa, and then followed the Land Act that eventually allocated 13% of the barren portion of African land to Africans. The Europeans took by force 87% of rich areas. The destruction of African capital formation, and the stunting of their development, has had a lingering inter-generational effect, made worse when oppression was couched in legality with the coming into power of Afrikaners in 1948, and the institution of apartheid. The land and its resources were subsequently used as capital to enrich and empower one group, as well as exploit and oppress another, all justified with false religious interpretations and philosophies. The question now is, what are Africans doing about it, after political liberation?
The gini co-efficient in South Africa is 0.70, making it the most unequal country in the world, mostly drawn along racial lines. Unofficial unemployment stands at about 40%, while 40% of the populace rely on government grants and handouts to survive.
A poverty culture, bred along the way, means a majority of the populace have psychologically settled for low life. Most are still unskilled low-wage labourers. Others have resorted to crime to make the break. Thus, African capital is scarce in a neo-liberal environment foisted on them after a negotiated settlement in 1994, and embodied in the country’s Constitution.
On the crucial land issue, the final Constitution of 1996 emanating from the relevant Section (28) in the interim Constitution reads as follows:
1. Every person shall have the right to acquire and hold rights in property and, to the extent that the nature of the rights permit, to dispose of such rights.
2. No deprivation of any rights in property shall be permitted otherwise than in accordance with law.
3. Where any rights in property are expropriated pursuant to a law referred to in subsection (2), such expropriation shall be permissible for public purposes only and shall be subject to the payment of agreed compensation or, failing agreement, to the payment of such compensation and within such period as may be determined by a court of law as just and equitable, taking into account all relevant factors, including, in the case of the determination of compensation, the use to which the property is being put, the history of its acquisition, its market value, the value of the investment in it by those affected and the interests of those affected.
It is widely accepted that Section 28 represented a compromise between the ANC and the now defunct National Party during the transition to democratic rule 20 years ago. Its interpretation has given rise to what is known as the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle.
In 1996, two years after the end of apartheid, some 60,000 white commercial farmers owned almost 70% of agricultural land and leased a further 19%. The ANC pledged to redistribute 30% of white-owned agricultural land to black farmers by 1999, and to restore property lost as a result of racist legislation.
But by 2012, only 7.95 million hectares had been transferred, just about a third of the 24.6 million hectares originally targeted. An estimated US$3.2 billion was spent on the land reform programme between 1994 and 2013.
The blame has been pinned on the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle. Landowners have been reluctant to sell. Collusion and corruption between sellers, land valuers, and government officials have inflated market prices.
It is now generally acknowledged that the “willing buyer, willing seller” policy has failed. So the government has made an about-turn, pinning its hopes on expropriation with “just and equitable” compensation, as is sanctioned by the Constitution.
A new Expropriation Bill, the introduction of land ceilings and the creation of a Valuer General, is expected to speed up land transfers and prevent the inflation of land prices. But under a neo-liberal rule of law, expect lengthy, frustrating legal challenges, as was the case in Zimbabwe.
A good article on rural issues in thinkafricapress.com opines: “Successive administrations in Pretoria have equated national food security with large-scale commercial farming – a sector dominated by white South Africans. The potential for millions of black smallholders to increase production, raise incomes and create much needed jobs has been overlooked.
“This was the bedrock of agricultural transformation which fuelled the rapid economic growth of most Southeast Asian economies. In South Africa, the government has prioritised grafting [and] redistributed land onto existing commercial units. Much of this land has been deemed ‘no longer productive’.”