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Land invasions have been used to demand services, says author Karl Kemp

Governance specialist, columnist and lawyer ​​​​​​​Judith February and Karl Kemp discussed Kemp's new book, Promised Land: Exploring South Africa's Land Conflict. Photos(Supplied)

On Thursday, Karl Kemp spoke to Judith February about his book, Promised Land: Exploring South Africa’s Land Conflict, which unpacks the housing crisis, land occupations and how property owners, government officials and land activists feel.

“People like to argue about whether land grabs are good or bad. Some argue that land grabs are orchestrated but what people don’t realise is how land grabs have historically been done to force Government to provide housing,” said Karl Kemp at the virtual book launch of his book, Promised Land: Exploring South Africa’s Land Conflict on Thursday.

The book, which took 18 months for Kemp to write and research, saw him travelling across the country unpacking the housing crisis, land occupations and how it affected property owners, land activists and government officials.

Although, initially Kemp said that the book was meant to be about farm murders. “I have a background in crime pattern analysis and the publishers were looking for someone who could objectively write about this,” said Kemp.

Kemp’s interest in writing on farm murders is because he has friends who are farmers and he has been “emotionally affected by the farm murders”.

“There’s also been a recent revival on the narrative of farm murders and white genocide,” said Judith February a governance specialist, who was hosting the book launch.

But after a month of conducting preliminary research into farm murders Kemp then soon realised that there was a bigger story about land, “what it means to South Africans and why it’s a hot topic,” said Kemp.

In an excerpt published in Daily Maverick, Kemp spoke to an activist in Orange Farm, Bricks, who “fought for service delivery during apartheid and still fought for service delivery from the ANC [government]” but he “is still not satisfied [with the land reform].” 

February commented on the fact that “it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In the book, Bricks tells Kemp “violence is coming… if you don’t give, we take.” “And that’s what [Bricks] believes that if Government doesn’t provide [housing], why not take the land,” said Kemp. 

While the City of Cape Town has often said that the land occupations in the City are politically orchestrated, Kemp said that in his experience as a journalist many land occupations happen because there are too many people and not enough housing being provided by Government. 

“Land is also seen as the fountain of South Africa’s inequality. If you look at the land invasions, they’re about demanding service delivery,” said Kemp. 

But on the other hand, Kemp said that people also saw land as an economic opportunity. “Once I was listening to a radio show and a black man said that he doesn’t know which piece of land his grandfather was dispossessed from, but he does want land so that he can build a house and rent it out, so there’s also the economic opportunity,” said Kemp.

While South Africa has also sought to address the injustices of the past where many black people were forcibly removed from their land, February asked why we haven’t moved past the starting blocks of the land reform agenda despite it being a good plan.“If it was a good plan, then why are we still having this conversation? It all comes down to incompetence and corruption,” said Kemp.

A year ago, Parliament heard how the beneficiaries of land reform were often well-off men, who were politically connected. A report released by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) in 2019 said it had found evidence of fraud and corruption affecting land reform projects on a grand scale due to a “complete lack of controls” in the process.

February said that the book is about “a sense and a concept of a home which is linked to land. A lot of the time when land is spoken about, it’s in this abstract way and not as a place of home and belonging” but Kemp has “beautifully and sensitively written” about this. DM

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