The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (also known as the TRC) was set up by the Government of National Unity in 1995 to help all South Africans to deal with the effects of what happened under apartheid. The commission provided for the investigation of as complete a picture as possible of the real nature, causes and extent of the gross human rights violations which were committed against the oppressed of South Africa from the 1 March 1960 until the time the commission was established in 1996.
This presents us with a presumption that human rights violations against black individuals are a thing of the past, and are confined only to this time in our history. The current conditions many people continue to live under in “post-apartheid” South Africa and the vulgar disparities in equality paint an entirely different picture. The very real consequences of the South African reconciliation project, even if unintended, have been the continued exploitation and oppression of people living under poverty, who are majority black because the structural framework of our country continues to prioritise white monopoly capital as a whole.
The conversation around reconciliation and justice often treats black and white South Africans as equally culpable for the atrocities that occurred under apartheid by imputing a false blameworthiness on all South Africans in order to counter the guilt that white individuals have to deal with for their role, whether in a blatant or incipient form. We often pretend that apartheid was a type of civil war between two nations who dominated each other, back and forth, in equal measure. There is a dangerous trajectory under way in our country which seeks to erase the true nature of apartheid. We see this quite clearly in the TImol inquest where the apartheid police continue to believe a lie they created about the death of Ahmed Timol – which is that he jumped from the 10th floor. South Africa is a country suspended between two horrors – the past, and the present, because some continue to live in the margins of society.
In a debate on Who owns the economy produced by The Big Debate, a regular television show broadcast on South Africa’s only independent free-to-air TV channel, e.tv, published on 8 April, 2013, Liepollo Lebohang Pheko of The Trade Collective challenged the reconciliation project stating that it was time for South Africa to create tangible freedoms for the marginalised members of our society, specifically those living under poverty. When we speak about reconciliation we need to expand this, and speak about moving the economy out of the hands of the minority into the hands of the majority African people. Our nation’s systemic failure to come to terms with our past and to redress its effects has entrenched racist practices – racist attitudes and norms form part of the everyday life.
The Ithemba Farmers Association is a case in point. The association consists of 300 poor, black households who have been surviving for as long as 25 years by keeping livestock and growing crops on a flood-prone sandy piece land in Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape.
It turned out that this land was owned by the provincial department of housing of the Western Cape. Upon discovering that this land was being occupied by the farmers, the department approached the courts for an eviction order against the farmers working on the land although, at the time the group took over that land, it was not being used, and had the potential to be farmed. It could also be argued that the iThemba Farmers Association is an example of what s25(2)(a) refers to as property expropriation for a public purpose or in the public interest – as the expropriation in question served a particular social function and social obligation which is in line with Agrarian reform and government intentions to create and empower farmworkers across the country.
This was an opportunity for the state to make headway in its land reform objectives. Instead, it demonstrated to us the contempt with which people living under poverty are often treated by both corporates and the state – with the state being among the biggest instigator of land evictions. Even when the current government recognises deficiencies in system, political leaders make it their business control the response of frustrated citizens to the provocation of the type of oppression they face on the daily. Our Constitution grants dignity, equality and freedom to our abstract selves in the “post”-apartheid state, while the concrete self continues to be subjugated and marginalized. In simpler terms, equal right to land is restored but not the land itself and we are legally given the rights to education, healthcare, food, water and social security while the majority still lacks and is unable to freely acquire decent and dignified access to things.
When community members take matters into their own hands they are criminalised, demonised and presented as threats to safety, economic growth and public order. There will be no order in our country without restorative justice. Each of us must be prepared to continuously give up some of the privileges we have, so that those who do not have can also migrate to a situation where they have better living conditions in our society.
Radical politics have returned to the mainstream and the need to reconcile black South Africans with the land is becoming increasingly urgent. It is time for us all to commit ourselves to dealing decisively with the issue of landlessness, this will require an honest confrontation with the truth of how we got to where we are and it is our state that must take the enlightened lead, while also being open about its own failures. This will require leaders who are more than just power-hungry and self-seeking, people whose motive is authority, security, wealth and comfort without excuses nor delay. As Fanon puts it, “the inhumanity of today, is no different from the inhumanity of yesteryear”. DM
Anele Nzimande has worked as a legal researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University and currently owns a clothing label that makes locally produced women’s apparel called Aluna