South Africa 100 years of landless blacks

South Africa 100 years of landless blacks
  • PublishedSeptember 18, 2013

Who owns what?
Between 2006 and 2012, the number of South Africans employed in agriculture fell from 1.09 million to 661,000. Rural unemployment stands at 52%, twice the national average. Acute poverty is rife in rural areas.

During a recent budget debate in the South African parliament, an outgoing Freedom Front Plus MP, Pieter Groenewald, warned the government that “whipping up emotions” about land reform threatens to create a “Zimbabwe situation”. Gugile Nkwinti, Minister in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (RDLR), responded disarmingly by calling the comparison with Robert Mugabe an “honour”.

Up until the 100th anniversary of the Land Act of 1913, the government was not even sure of who owned what. It was often heard from the white sector that the government owned most of the land and should redistribute that land instead of expropriation. So the government decided to do some stocktaking by conducting a land audit. It was the first. The results have been revealing.

The land mass of South Africa is 122 million hectares. Of this the State owns 17 million hectares or 14%. It includes the sites on which 192,000 low-cost houses for the poor have been built, as the government is still the registered owner of these properties.

There was a physical inspection of 1.15 million pieces of land throughout the country between October 2011 and March 2013. A good 79% of the land is in the hands of private individuals and organisations, while the audit was unable to establish who owned 8.3% of the land. The 79% is overwhelmingly owned by 9% whites.

A large part of black ownership is in the Kwazulu-Natal Province, where Ingonyama Trust, which made the Zulu King the trustee of vast tracts of communal land, was orchestrated by the apartheid government to placate the restive Zulus. Even then, the apartheid government cherry-picked rich areas from it for whites: mineral resources, coastal resorts and holiday beaches, as well as marine resources and many more.

Political urgency
Civil societies that have risen up on the back of the land question, like the Landless Peoples Movement of the last decade, have fallen by the roadside. Deep-rooted African political parties with illustrious histories like the Pan African Congress (PAC) and AZAPO have followed suit, due mainly to a lack of funds. Or alternatively the parties are co-opted and picked apart by the resource-rich.

A good example of this is the previously staunch PAC stalwart, Patricia De Lille, who formed her own political party and was subsequently picked up by the white-dominated Democratic Alliance. She now sits comfortably as the mayor of Cape Town, with the land issue the least of her priorities.

Now, with the jolt of the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, and with the deadline of 30% transfer of agricultural land by 2014 coming up fast, there seems to be some political urgency. More so when the election day of reckoning cometh, with new political formations seeking to exploit the issue. New legislation – the Expropriation Bill, Restitution Amendment Bill and Valuation Bill – now seems to be the game-changer. The stakes have risen with a volatile economic environment peppered with industrial unrest “not seen since the days of apartheid”.

At the end of May 2013, the World Bank slashed South Africa’s growth forecast for the current year from 3.2% to 2.5%. A Business Day editorial had the headline: “South Africa approaches tipping point”.

The ANC has undertaken to create a million agriculture-related jobs by 2030, suggesting that it is beginning to recognise a real opportunity in agriculture as a means of employment and poverty alleviation. The success of the Zimbabwean land reform project is a precedent.

Will the blacks mess it up?
There is a psychological fear among blacks that somehow they will starve if change comes. And that somehow they are incapable of making use of the resources that come with land. The threat has always been the capital flight of black resources, now owned by whites, that were forcibly taken away from them, and their powerlessness to prevent it. And of course, they are afraid of the punishment that will be inflicted by the white kith and kin in faraway Europe that shares in these blood proceeds. There is a palpable fear of a collapse of the economy and the international media trumpeting, “Will it go the way of Zimbabwe?” But there is always a price to pay for long-lasting changes, and the question is should an African child succeed his parents as a labourer on his own land till kingdom come.

The decision has to be made when they are going to pay the price for change. As President Barack Obama once pointed out, power does not give without a fight. And as political freedom in South Africa would never have happened without a fight, so will economic freedom. And as it happens, any change is a threat to others. Some in the white world are genuine Africans at heart, keen on inclusivity and redress. After all, successful countries are inclusive.

Many whites have successfully gone out into the continent. Others see change as a zero sum game, with delusions of white superiority and the myth of being the only ones who can make things happen.

The salutary success of the Zimbabwean land reform project, and the contestation of great African entrepreneurs, however, exposes the myth. When the richest black man and African in the world, worth over $12 billion (an indigenous Nigerian whose wealth emanated from his home country) is not a white African or African-American, then it is time to think again.

And when the richest man who ever lived, Emperor Mansa Musa of Mali in the 14th century, was African, then it is time to think again. It is time to rethink the question of land, resources, governance, education, skills, knowledge, innovation, the formation of real African capital, African empowerment, and its rigorous defence.

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