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Apartheid spatial morphology – who can argue against the injustice?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Integrated class living spaces in modern cities are what is needed and in the South African context only resolving the land question will effectively address this morphology.

As a starting point we must ask what elements constitute a modern city these days. When looking at New York, London or Shanghai, three elements stand out that define a modern city: People, public institutions and money/resources.

The situation in South Africa, however, because of apartheid morphology, is very different. In Johannesburg, the majority of its people live in the South Western Townships (Soweto and surrounds), far from the city centre. Public institutions such as libraries, theatres, universities, museums and retails stores are all in the inner city, while money or resources generally are located in Sandton, as are the head offices of big corporates, the stock exchange and most foreign companies.

The answer from the then ANC-led local government was to attempt to knit these elements together through the “Corridors of Freedom” initiative. These were a set of road arteries and networks that would be converted into one unison road network with the aim of bringing these three elements closer together and to reduce the travel time between these. Knitting the city together in order to overcome these disparities.

But even in the face of such innovative ideas, Johannesburg still caters for the poor by locating them on the periphery of the city, making commuting a major problem and a serious drain on their resources. The Rea Vaya bus service was another such initiative to ease this burden. Is it working, I don’t know, but at least Joburg tried something creative.

Cape Town and its apartheid spatial morphology on the other hand is such that the Cape Flats is where most of the people reside; institutions are indeed closer to the inner city and resources and money is located on the western seaboard of Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, and in Bishopscourt.

Tshwane is no different.

Integrated class living spaces in modern cities are what is needed and, in the South African context, only resolving the land question will effectively address this morphology.

So, when looking at the land question and the historic injustice that goes apart with it, is the question then about justice or economics? I think we can safely say, it’s about both.

Some people simply want some form of justice and to set the historic records straight – “you white people took this from us and we simply want it back”. And we must be seen to take it because that will make us feel good and dignified again. I took what is rightfully mine, that which was stolen from me.

Others want it because of the economics of land. In the urban settings, I want my title deed and security of tenure so I can use it as collateral against which I can borrow to set up a small or medium size business. Or simply being in a position to leave the property to my children so as to at least put them in a slightly better financial position than what I had when my parents died. In the rural settings, some want to farm, whether subsistence farming or competitive farming, but they want that choice to be their own.

Those that argue that this is a populist stance by the ANC because they have lost the support of urban voters are misguided. It also has nothing to do with the EFF and taking the wind out of their sails but everything to do with the mood of the people of SA.

Our people have grown tired of the inaction of both the government and the private sector on economic redress post 1994. Our political rights are already, after 25 years, taken for granted, and the focus of our people has shifted towards economic emancipation.

And so the ANC announced recently, in keeping with its National Conference resolution, that it was going to amend the Constitution of the Republic. This fear of making changes to the Constitution is misplaced. It is after all a living document and not cast in stone as so many want to pretend. I need not remind people that we settled for a negotiated settlement post 1990 culminating in the historic 1994 elections in SA. What this means is that our world class Constitution is also a compromised document, meaning not everything in it has been agreed by all.

Material conditions change in any country and as these do, the government has a responsibility to change with it and to ensure that legislation and the supreme law of the land change with it.

Issues such as the protection of minority rights in the form of the Afrikaans language issue, which is currently causing great consternation in our schooling system and which excludes some citizens, cannot go unchallenged in this day and age of our democracy.

The structure of government poses a challenge with more and more people asking whether there is still a need for provincial governments and whether we should not just have two tiers of government, a change that could effectively deal a death blow for patronage and corruption in that tier of government.

The existence of Orania as a little volksstaat, seriously?

Many argue that our election process and its proportional representation system does not work for citizens and should be amended so voters directly elect the president of SA.

These are but a few examples of what should really be revisited in our world-class Constitution. Is this what some fear – that once you tamper with the Constitution, there will be no end?

Our political emancipation was a compromised solution and therefore, by extension, difficult as it is to accept, so too is our world-class Constitution a compromise.

In recent months government is being blamed for not having properly implemented the land policies in the country since 1994. Look how much land the government possesses – and why can’t they redistribute that? They have mismanaged the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach and they have hardly adequately addressed the outstanding claims still with them.

Some of these arguments have merit of course but what I just don’t get from mostly our white citizens is an appreciation that maybe, just maybe, the ANC government dragged its feet and postponed dealing with this very complex matter because it was not ready to upset the applecart.

Remember Mandela’s posture post 1990, having a reconciliatory approach to whites, not wanting to scare off investors and trying to avoid mass panic and disinvestment by our white-owned companies. Wearing rugby jerseys and attending various sporting events to appease white citizens. Did you ever think that perhaps that’s also what the ANC government was attempting indirectly?

What makes you think that this is not what the ANC was also trying to do? Because when you look around now, you see race politics yet again rearing its ugly head because of this land issue, you see threats from the private sector that they are getting ready to leave the country, immigration stats among whites are on the rise again. It sounds like a convenient scapegoat does it not, but let me assure you guys, the ANC’s biggest and most difficult task since 1994 has been nothing but political management of this very precarious compromised political solution we find ourselves in.

Maybe, just maybe, the ANC government was a bit lethargic on this matter because it is just more complicated than everyone let on.

Avoiding a Zimbabwe moment, avoiding the frustration of our dispossessed people to spill over into a civil war, is a bit more complicated.

And before some of you think this is extreme posturing on my part, or perhaps alarmist, perhaps you have the luxury to be in denial, of not wanting to see what is so patently clear to some of us and that is that our black people in SA are gatvol.

They are gatvol not because government has failed them, as the populist narrative goes, but because whites still enjoy economic hierarchy, wealth and a privileged existence since 1994. They have not repented at all, in fact they have become more arrogant through AgriForum, making demands that are upsetting too many. They take our government to court at every turn to secure their privilege and so much more. This is what breeds populist politics of the EFF, not the ANCs incompetence on these matters.

Amending the Constitution is not only a right – the Constitution is not cast in stone, but a living document.

As to the factionalism within the ANC party, let’s just all remember that all sides want one thing for certain and that is a victory in 2019 general elections. Otherwise, what is the point; this fight in the ANC, DA and in certain cases the EFF is about wielding political power.

So let’s not confuse issues and say that President Cyril Ramaphosa is forced to make these compromises because of the populist faction in the ANC; perhaps it just makes for clever politicking towards the next general elections. After all, CR needs a big victory in order to set the country right after Zuma’s disastrous years.

As a black person in SA I don’t have to wait for the outcome of the public hearings to know that the majority of our people would have told Parliament to do whatever it takes to make the land redistribution matter a reality, including changing the Constitution if it means it will ensure it.

As for the ConCourt argument, the ANC as a party can take whatever decision they want with regards to any issue, including land reform. The court can only rule against such if it is government and Parliament that takes such a decision because that would undermine the will and participation of the people.

To understand the complexities of this question, real and meaningful land reform would mean expropriating the 35,000 big capitalist farmers and the giant monopolies which dominate the agriculture sector. But that is not all. These big farms are directly linked to the banks through the agricultural market and mortgages. This is an example of how intertwined the capitalist economy is.

Therefore, the expropriation of the giant farming monopolies would immediately lead to a clash with monopolies in other sectors. The expropriation of land would effectively put the question of general capitalist relations squarely on the agenda.

Apartheid spatial morphology remains a reality in South Africa, no one surely can argue against this historical injustice? We must do this! DM


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