“These rogues are not keen to part with their cattle and sheep although they have an abundance of fine stock.” — Jan van Riebeeck, 1654.
These are the words of the first white settler two years after landing on the shores of South Africa. According to sahistory.org.za, between 1652 and 1799 this period was characterised by Dutch colonial expansion through occupation of land and resistance against this by the indigenous inhabitants, the Khoi and San in what is today the Western Cape and with the Xhosas in the Eastern Cape.
Thus began the history of forced removals and land dispossession, by stealth or outright forced removals and land grabs, and resistance that spread into the hinterland, which continued well into the 1980s.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa enjoins us in its preamble to “recognise the injustices of the past and honour those who suffered and for justice and freedom in our land”. It further calls on us to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and human rights”.
Although Section 25 of the Constitution (Property Clause) attempts to address these injustices of the past, it falls short of providing redress and restitution to those dispossessed of their land before the enactment of the Natives Land Act of 1913. This was legislation that was designed to further deprive most South Africans of the right to own land.
From the 17th century through to the 1980s black South Africans engaged in wars of resistance, frontier battles, depositions to the Queen of England, the armed struggle and all forms of resistance to land dispossession. In short, our liberation struggle was about land.
This being said, if South Africa dithers on the resolution of the thorny issue of land reform, we must forget about social and economic justice for the poor. So too must we forget about peace in a country that still battles with social cohesion and has to endure sporadic acts of racism.
Almost 25 years ago, the ANC adopted its policy guidelines on the transformation of South Africa from apartheid to a democratic future. As the ANC prepared itself to govern the new democratic South Africa, one of its cardinal focal points was the issue of land reform, which it identified as a strategic task in reversing the legacy of apartheid.
Today, almost 25 years after the adoption of those policy guidelines, the question confronting the country is whether the cardinal promise of land reform has seen the light of day. Recent developments in the land reform debates suggest that we have not only failed to achieve the promise of land reform, but we continue to speak with forked tongues about the ultimate policy direction that the country must take to resolve this issue.
On the other hand, the poor people of our country, who have taken part in the countrywide parliamentary public hearings on land reform, have been vociferous in declaring that their poverty has worsened without access to land.
The fact that government has to restore land to its rightful owners is a moral responsibility that rests very heavily on the shoulders of our democratic government, but we have to face the reality that the land reform and restitution programme introduced by government in 1998 to address the forced removal of people from land through the 1913 Land Act and during apartheid, has failed.
The post-1994 democratic government had set itself a target of delivering 30% of commercial agricultural land to previously dispossessed individuals by 2014 and settling all land claims by 2015. Both targets have not been met — less than 10% of land had been delivered as of 31 March 2017. Many complicated rural land claims remain unresolved and all of this contributes to the triple scourge of poverty, unemployment and inequality affecting poor black people in South Africa.
These three deadly evils collectively pose a serious threat to security and the goal of achieving substantive and sustainable democracy in South Africa. It is a terrible indictment on the ruling party that our revolutionary ambitions as a democratic government to distribute economic assets such as land to our people have not come to fruition as we envisaged when we took power in 1994.
As a result, the ideals of our much celebrated Constitution, including social and economic justice for all, sound like a hollow promise to a people ravaged by poverty due to lack of access to economic resources such as land.
We have wasted too much time lamenting the need to accelerate growth and intensify our programme of economic transformation. At our conference in 2012, we committed to take decisive and resolute action to over the next five years to overcome the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, which are at the heart of South Africa’s socio-economic challenges.
Of course it was always going to be difficult to achieve this without a coherent policy and approach to land reform, which forms the cornerstone of economic emancipation for the poor.
It is a relief that the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress at Nasrec, as did the 53rd conference, answered the question boldly about whether the ruling party was prepared to allow the status quo of landlessness for the poor majority to continue and that it was prepared to take the bull by the horns and confront the issue of land expropriation seriously.
The bold resolution, to expropriate land without compensation, was informed by the reality painted above, which is the enduring poverty and marginalisation suffered by landless poor people in the country. The message is loud and clear that the time is up for rhetoric and empty resolutions of conference after conference without a practical programme to achieve concrete results on land reform.
If we are serious about the economic emancipation of our people and the country as a whole, we must roll up our sleeves as the ruling party and implement a radical land reform programme that will lift our people out of poverty.
Of course, it is expected that those who currently enjoy the privilege of land ownership and are oblivious to the peace and security threat it poses, will create scarecrows and besmirch this policy position.
It was also not surprising that some analysts and prominent politicians both at home and abroad, most of whom have never been friends of the democratic project, would cast aspersions on the intentions of this policy. The reality is that the poor people of South Africa have endured centuries of brutal programmes and legislation of land dispossession, which has plunged them into untold misery, subjugation, hunger, poverty and economic bondage.
The possibility of owning land offers the much-needed opportunity for the people to emancipate themselves from the desperate human condition they find themselves in and moves us closer to the total emancipation of our people for which so many lost their lives, childhoods, dignity, property and a whole lot more.
The amendment of the South African Constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation will usher in a new and brighter era for South Africa, wherein our country will move away from apartheid spatial planning that condemned our people to the hopelessness of densely populated informal settlements and bring them into the cities, closer to work, to learning opportunities and to other amenities. Black South Africans will finally feel part of their country.
Of course, as the president has reassured everyone in the country and abroad, the implementation of this policy will be within the confines of the rule of law and the ever-intricate economic imperatives of a developing country such as ours.
In the National Development Plan, a blueprint for future development of our country and society, the ANC government has boldly put a target of 300,000 new black commercial farmers on the land by 2030 and creating upward of 130,000 agro-processing jobs and other non-agricultural economic growth activities in the rural areas, such as mining and manufacturing.
This will not be possible if we continue with the slow pace of making land available for these ambitious projects. It is even worse if we are to take into account the results of the recent state land audit process which worryingly confirms that the bulk of land in South Africa remains in private hands, with black people owning much less than other race groups.
The audit results show that some 14% is registered state land and 4% recently surveyed state land, while 79% is in private hands. Of this 79%, a significant percentage is owned by private individuals, companies and trusts.
Disaggregated by race, the picture looks grim. Whites, who make up 8% of the population, own 72% of the land, while coloureds, who make up 8.8% of the population, own 15%. Indians, at 2.5% of the population, own 5% of the land and the majority African population owns 4% of the land while they account for 80.8% of the population.
The results unfortunately do not reflect the percentage of foreign ownership of land.
We have a responsibility to uplift the lives of our people and if we cannot do that with economic assets such as land ownership, we might as well abandon the ANC’s historical mission of delivering social and economic emancipation to the millions of poor and working people.
The slow pace of land reform we have witnessed so far is compromising economic emancipation for the poor people of this country and without access to land, social and economic justice for the poor will remain a pipe dream. DM
Minister Dlodlo writes in her capacity as a military veteran of Umkhonto weSizwe