The inaugural Secretary-General of the African National Congress, Sol Plaatje, writing on his seminal book Native Life in South Africa, wrote these thunderous lines: “Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African native found himself not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.” These inconsolable words by Plaatje, penned more than a century ago, remain significantly relevant and continue to linger aloud today.
Our governing party, the ANC, is holding its National Policy Conference this week. Thousands of delegates and leaders will descend on the majestic Nasrec Expo for five days to reflect, review and craft new policies to be adopted at the watershed National Conference in December 2017.
This is the first big gathering of the ANC since the last local government elections. The movement will be going to this Policy Conference after we lost two strategic metros, Tshwane Municipality and Nelson Mandela Bay, to an unholy coalition led by forces opposed to the People’s Camp. Undeniably, this will derail the transformation agenda being pursued by our movement, as encapsulated in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR).
The Policy Conference will be taking place under “conditions not of our own choosing” (as Karl Marx once observed in the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), but under circumstances of a stubborn and job shedding economy, as evidenced by sky-rocketing levels of unemployment, especially among the black working-class youth, accompanied by racialised income inequalities and mass poverty. Furthermore, our economic misfortunes should be located within the context of historical and structural economic problems we inherited from our apartheid past. By this admission we are not discounting the reckless and unnecessary mistakes we have committed in the recent past.
The infamous Native Land Act of 1913 entrenched the political ideology of racial separation by means of spatial and territorial segregation. This further laid a skunk foundation for apartheid to be engineered as a system that elevated the superiority of whites, which led to the formalisation of racialised and gendered access and ownership of land. The Act also intended to make the “natives” not only to be drawers of wood or fetchers of water, but into a cheap labour reservoir for mining and farming sectors dominated and owned by whites.
A few days ago, 26 June, marked the 62nd historic gathering of the Congress of the People, held in Kliptown. The Congress of the People signifies a historic moment in the galaxy of books of struggle against white oppression, exploitation and domination. This gathering, convened by allies the ANC, Congress of Democrats (CoD); Coloureds People’s Congress (CPC) and South African Indian Congress (SAIC), produced what was envisaged as a blueprint for a future free, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and egalitarian South Africa – the Freedom Charter.
The Congress of the People took place against the backdrop of reinvigorated popular struggles and revolutionary tempo from below, underpinned by mass actions, boycotts, strikes and civil obedience, to force the white minority government to concede to the national grievances of the historically oppressed blacks in general and Africans in particular.
Since the advent of our ’94 negotiated political settlement, 23 years ago, land reform continues to be a powder keg waiting to explode. Land ownership in South Africa today stubbornly mirrors the racialised, gendered and class divided society we inherited from our apartheid past and legacy. In 1994, as a result of colonial dispossession and the apartheid legacy, 87% of the land was owned by whites and only 13% by blacks. Currently, 7.95-million hectares of land has been transferred to blacks. Initially, the State had envisaged to transfer 30% of white-owned commercial land by 2005; regrettably this target has not been realised to date. By 2014, more than seven years after the initial target, less than 10% of the redistribution target has been achieved by the State.
The property clause, which dictates that compensation be paid for land that was “illegally” acquired as a consequence of the infamous Land Act of 1913, by the minority white population continues to be a fundamental impediment for radical redistribution of land by the State. The demand that compensation must be “just and equitable” is an insult to the majority of the Africans, who were disposed of their land and made a pariah in the land of their birth.
The ANC’s conference should take a radical stance and resolve that land should be expropriated without compensation in the interest of the historically dispossessed and landless black majority. This resolution will be consistent with the Freedom Charter injunction that land should be restored back to the hands of its rightful owners. Furthermore, this will restore the dignity of our people, who were regarded as consequences of land dispossessions as “guests” in the land of their forebears.
Revolutionary figure and celebrated ideologue Frantz Fanon made the assertion that “for a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land; the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity”. Indeed, for the historically oppressed, marginalised and dispossessed blacks the most essential value is land that was wrongfully taken away from us, to be returned back to us, since it will restore our dignity.
Any populist posturing or playing with the emotions of the landless pertaining to land reform will be toxic for our nascent democracy and future. Inasmuch, we need to redress and restore the dignity of our people. We should do so within the context of our ongoing national reconciliation and healing project, which will truly bring a true South Africa that belongs to all who live on it, as proclaimed by the Freedom Charter. DM
Lebogang Maile is Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development.
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