On the parliamentary occasion of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in 1996, then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, among other things, said:
“The Constitution whose adoption we celebrate constitutes an unequivocal statement that we refuse to accept that our African-ness shall be defined by our race, our colour, our gender or our historical origins.”
These words constitute the centrepiece of former president Mbeki’s now classic speech, “I am an African”. To be African, at this southern tip of the continent, came to mean embracing all who call this place a home. The entire speech, it could be said, is the greatest statement in celebration and affirmation of non-racialism.
For Mbeki, our nationhood in South Africa could not afford to perpetuate the determination of African-ness or of belonging based on race, gender or historic origins. Consequently, European settlers who caused so great an injustice on the rest of the population in this country for centuries, through colonial and apartheid violence, they too are African. Mbeki contends that we could not deny them an African identity. In addition, all other nationalities that came to settle or were forcefully settled in South Africa, either as slaves, like the Malays of the Cape and indentured Indian labourers or like the Chinese merchants — are all Africans. To all of them, this is home and like the indigenous peoples of this continent, they too are African.
I mention all the above to demonstrate that Mbeki’s commitment to non-racialism has been consistent. He has, as many presidents of the ANC, held strong to the proposition that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. An ideal expressed in the Freedom Charter of 1955, and the most popular read in the mass movements such as the United Democratic Front (UDF), Congress of South African Students (Cosas), and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) that were dominant in the 1980s.
Guided by the above proposition in the Freedom Charter that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, Mbeki penned a piece titled “What then About Land Expropriation without Compensation?”. This was in response to the recent debate initiated by the EFF, whose central kernel is that land must be expropriated without compensation, to resolve the historic and colonial question of the land dispossession of black people.
In this piece, Mbeki insists that the resolution of the problem of land in our country should always “simultaneously” pay attention to realise the founding principle of building a non-racial South Africa, that is, a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
The vexed and complex issue of belonging or the social cohesion of races in one land is what is thought of and discussed under the thematic of the National Question. It is the question of ending the oppression of a people because they belong to a different nationality. In our own reality, the white minority colonial and apartheid regimes determined nationality by the colour of one’s skin. In this guise, nationality and belonging were reduced to two groups, black and white, where to be black meant you were an inferior being and to be white meant you were superior being.
Present in Mbeki’s exposition is an unmistakable absolutism of the idea of non-racialism, that is, the resolution of the land question must not undo what he feels is an abiding principle, not only of the ANC, but also of all progressive left movements — that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
Reading the speech, “I am an African” with the more recent piece by President Mbeki, it is clear that his articulation of the national question confuses the question of belonging to “humanity/the human race” with belonging to a “nation/nationality/nation-state”. Reason being that one could indeed be human, but not belong to a nation they live under, for example a German citizen who lives and works in Britain.
The colonial problem is by all historic accounts not a nationality problem — in that blacks were oppressed because they did not belong to the white nation. The colonial problem is a problem of dehumanisation, it is about ontology. The coloniser discriminates against the indigenous and black people in general because they are less than human. They, according to the coloniser, belong to the “child-race”. The coloniser sees blacks as essentially falling outside the bounds of humanity.
For the coloniser, the land in South Africa was a terra incognita, discovered by them. In keeping with their G-d given duty they developed and civilised it — in short brought unto it the benefits of modernisation. The Africans in it belonged to the sphere of raw nature and animals that Europeans came to possess and rule over. In their world view there was no distinction between taking land from a colony of monkeys and from a community of natives.
Thus, Africans were excluded not from being part of the nation. They could not be in a nation, they essentially were excluded from the human race/humanity. A post-colonial nation building project has therefore to proceed from this reality in addressing the land and other important questions.
Mbeki’s lamentation: non-racialism
While Mbeki’s pamphlet is really directed at the ANC and questions the ANC’s departure from the principle of non-racialism, we who are the impetus for the present discussion of land in society today have a responsibility to respond to President Mbeki. This is not only because of the historic role the ANC played in the liberation of the country, but also because Mbeki himself led the ANC for a decade, and the country for nine years.
Besides, it is Mbeki who brought the EFF and its CIC Julius Malema directly into his critique of the ANC. This may very well be because it is impossible to speak of land today, in particular, the idea of “expropriation of land without compensation” without a mention of the EFF.
As Mbeki himself puts it, it is for the first time that the ANC has come to this position. Parliament has also never had to deal with this position, before the EFF. It is therefore an issue or debate introduced to Parliament by the EFF right from the moment of its arrival in 2014. At present it is being discussed officially by Parliament due to a motion by the EFF for a constitutional amendment to allow expropriation of land without compensation. There is therefore no doubt that the country is finally grappling with the question of the land because of the EFF.
In his pamphlet, Mbeki does not demonstrate familiarity with any of the EFF literature on the question. This, however, does not deter him from making sweeping statements and conclusions about what the EFF and its leader stand for. We shall in a moment return to this. Let us nonetheless restate his central argument, which we must at all times remember, is by and large directed to the ANC. Perhaps it is the three following statements which best sum Mbeki’s argument:
1. “There can be no doubt that more land should be made available to the black majority in our country, for various purposes. Equally, there is no doubt that to achieve this objective, the democratic State must have the possibility to expropriate land without compensation in the public interest.
That public interest obviously includes redressing the imbalances of the past, as specifically provided for in our Constitution. Accordingly, we strongly assert that all the controversy about the principle and practice of land expropriation without compensation has been misplaced because even our Constitution allows for this to happen and has authorised the approval of legislation which would make this possible through approved Statutes. The principle and strategic matter at issue is therefore not about the manner of acquisition of land to address the Land Question in the context of the NDR. Rather, the matter at issue is and has been how our country should properly address the Land Question, bearing in mind the simultaneous challenge also to address the National Question.”
2. “Of the African countries, colonial Algeria had the second-largest Settler population after South Africa. At independence in 1962, this settler population amounted to 1.6 million persons, the overwhelming majority being French. This entire settler population left Algeria after the country’s independence! Accordingly, there was no need for the Algerian national liberation movement, led and represented by the FLN, to consider how the indigenous Algerians should coexist with what had been a colonial settler population. In essence the end of French colonial rule meant “the resolution of the national question” as this concerned the relations between the indigenous Algerian population and the French colonial settlers.
To the contrary, in our case “the resolution of the national question” necessarily meant and means that the National Democratic Movement had to ensure that:
- The (colonially) black oppressed, the dominated under apartheid white minority rule, were liberated from such oppression; and,
- The matter of the relations between this formerly oppressed black majority and the erstwhile oppressor white minority is addressed.”
3. “It was with regard to this context that statements made by the leadership of the ANC after the December 2017 54th National Conference, that land would be expropriated from one national group, without compensation, and handed to another national group, came across as representing a radical departure from policies faithfully sustained by the ANC during 105 years of its existence!
This was a radical departure not because of either the notion of “expropriation” or the adoption of the concept of “without compensation”! It was a radical departure for an entirely different reason. That reason has to do with the extremely fundamental question of the very definition of the nature, character and objectives of the National Democratic Movement in our country, as led by the ANC!”
Underlying all this is a proposition in the Freedom Charter that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. As demonstrated above, Mbeki is not concerned so much with the question of “expropriation of land without compensation”. In fact he sees no problem with the proposition. Instead, he is concerned that whatever the mechanism used to resolve the land question, one could not do so in exclusion of the National Question. Meaning for him, the land question is at one with the National Question.
To put it differently, Mbeki is saying you could not resolve the land question in any post-colonial society without tampering with a nation-building project. This is because with the land is essentially the question of “who belongs”. There is no other aspect of social life that best demonstrates this fact than the land. Mbeki’s document, and indeed also his classic “I Am an African” speech, basically persuade us that the white settler community must be embraced as part of the South Africa nation. Hence in this 1996 speech he says:
“I am formed of the migrants who left Europe to find a new home on our native land. Whatever their own actions, they remain still part of me.”
Whatever the white people did, whatever their sin, which he calls the original sin, they are still part of us. To whom does South Africa’s land belong? Mbeki insists we must use the Freedom Charter’s answer which is, “to all who live in it, black and white”.
What impels Mbeki to pen his more recent document is that, according to him, former president Zuma and Julius Malema have somehow advocated that the resolution of the land question must be to the detriment of the white members of the South African population. I will not waste ink on President Zuma. As Mbeki himself probably knows, Zuma is the lowest measure of a discourse on these important matters of the national and land question. As Mbeki demonstrates in his own document, Zuma does not know the ANC, but that is the fault of the ANC itself. As such, for this to remain the serious matter that it is, Zuma must be left out of it.
However, on Julius Malema, who descended from the ranks of the very ANC, Mbeki is wrong — and we must demonstrate the fact. He decided to wrongly judge him based on a single, yet important statement he made in Parliament in response to a futile, ahistorical and simplistic question Terror Lekota, MP asked. For the benefit of the reader, let us recall what the Congress of the People (Cope) leader asked in Parliament.
Lekota’s question was: Who is “our people” that we all kept referring to, and who is not “our people”? In a way, Lekota was saying all people of South Africa are our people and since white people are also South Africans, they too had to be treated equally before the law. Their property could not be taken from them without compensation because that would amount to discrimination against them, which is unconstitutional.
The CIC Julius Malema correctly responded to Lekota and said:
“You can’t ask — who are your people? — because the National Democratic Revolution answers that question. It says the motive forces which stand to benefit from the victories of this Revolution — those are our people. The motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution which you went to prison for — the motive forces of the National Democratic Revolution are the oppressed, the blacks in general and the Africans in particular.”
Mbeki’s reading of this statement by the EFF CIC Julius Malema is that the:
“EFF position concerning the matter of who “our people” are, as explained by Julius Malema as quoted above, is of course a vulgar and gross misrepresentation of the historic positions of the ANC on the National Question. Nowhere in any of the policy documents of the ANC since our liberation, including the documents on Strategy and Tactics as adopted at the ANC national Conferences, has the Movement departed from the basic positions on the National Question as stated in the Freedom Charter.”
Yet the Strategy and Tactics Document of the 1969 Morogoro Conference of the ANC states that the main forces of the national liberation struggle are the African majority. It says:
“The main content of the present stage of the South African revolution is the national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group — the African people. This strategic aim must govern every aspect of the conduct of our struggle whether it be the formulation of policy or the creation of structures.”
Even as adopted in 1997, the Strategy and Tactics Document of the ANC states that the “strategic objective of the NDR is the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.
“This, in essence, means the liberation of Africans in particular and black people in general from political and economic bondage. It means uplifting the quality of life of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female.”
Nowhere in the documents of the ANC has the National Question been understood to mean liberation of white people. The white people needed no liberation — they as a nation, were the strategic enemy. In fact the Strategy and Tactics of 1969, as the one of 1997, expresses great skepticism about the white working class realising that “their true long-term interest coincides with that of the non-White workers”. Of the character of the national liberation struggle the 1969 document says:
“The material well-being of the White group and its political, social and economic privileges are, we know, rooted in its racial domination of the indigenous majority. It has resisted and will resist doggedly and passionately any attempt to shift it from this position. Its theorists and leaders ceaselessly play upon the theme of “We have nowhere else to go”. They dishonestly ignore and even twist the fact that the uncertainty about the future of the oppressor in our land is an uncertainty born not of our racialism but of his. The spectre is falsely raised of a threat to the White men’s language and culture to “justify” a policy of cultural discrimination and domination. By economic bribes and legal artifices which preserve for him the top layers of skills and wage income, the White worker is successfully mobilised as one of racialism’s most reliable contingents. In every walk of life White autocracy creates privilege by operation of the law and, where necessary, the gun and with a primitive and twisted ‘proof’ of its own superiority.”
If this may seem like a statement from a distant past, long before the democratic dispensation, let us turn to 1997 characterisation of the national liberation struggle in relation to white people for guidance:
“The system of national oppression meant that the African majority and blacks in general became, from their own experiences and actions, the main motive forces of the struggle. At the same time, within the white community, individuals of rare foresight and integrity did realise that all the people of our country shared a common future, and therefore made common cause with the national liberation movement.”
The national liberation struggle therefore never made it a secret that within the white community or group, only white individuals of rare foresight are part of the motive forces. In general, the white nation is not a motive force and it is not who the movement seeks to liberate because the white nation is the oppressor from whom the Africans and blacks in general are to be liberated.
Here, we must underscore the fact that what Julius Malema did in Parliament that day was to elevate Lekota’s silly, ahistorical and simplistic question of “our people” into a theoretical and ideological debate about the motive forces of the national democratic revolution. In a way, Mbeki wrote his pamphlet to respond to the theoretical and ideological response Julius Malema gave to Lekota about this very national democratic revolution.
Even so, Mbeki could not disagree that the white community did not, and does not, constitute a motive force of national democratic revolution. No one, even as they held dear to the belief that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, struggled for the liberation of white people. This is simply because from a national liberation point of view, the white nation was the oppressor and only individuals among them, those rare individuals possessed of rare foresight, joined the struggle. Even these individuals knew that the struggle was not for the liberation of whites, but for the liberation of African people and blacks in general.
Mbeki’s treatment of CIC’s answer makes his pamphlet a verbose vulgarisation of the national liberation struggle. This is even more so if Lekota’s question is juxtaposed with the spirit of the 1969 Strategy and Tactics, described in the following words:
“The material well-being of the White group and its political, social and economic privileges are, we know, rooted in its racial domination of the indigenous majority. It has resisted and will resist doggedly and passionately any attempt to shift it from this position. Its theorists and leaders ceaselessly play upon the theme of ‘We have nowhere else to go”’ They dishonestly ignore and even twist the fact that the uncertainty about the future of the oppressor in our land is an uncertainty born not of our racialism, but of his.”
The ANC could speak like this because it understood who the oppressor was, and to whom the land belongs. When it said the future in “our land”, referring to the oppressor, it is not hard to fathom that it was speaking of the future of white people in the land of Africans. Having said this, they would repeat that in their land, Africans are willing to live side-by-side with white people, but on the basis of equality and democracy.
When amid a debate on the land question, a veteran who spent 10 years on Robben Island for participating in the national liberation struggle asks who our people are, and who are not our people, with an intent of discrediting a legitimate claim to the land by indigenous people, it is blatant vulgarity. It is also a denial of the violence of colonial criminal land dispossession by the white minority, in the interest, privilege and benefit of the white settler community, for centuries. We must then repeat unequivocally after CIC Julius Malema that such a veteran has become a factory fault.
EFF position of the Freedom Charter
Now, let us expose President Mbeki, and perhaps many other readers, to the EFF’s position on the Freedom Charter. It is noteworthy that at its formation the EFF already made it clear that its members, which came from all ideological walks of the Left life, did and do not have to agree on the Freedom Charter. Meaning it was not a document seen as definitive for formulating a new radical and left political home following the degeneration of the liberation movement.
From its Founding Manifesto, adopted in 2013, the EFF states in paragraphs 30 and 31 that:
“The EFF appreciates the role played by the fathers and mothers of South Africa’s liberation movement. The EFF draws inspiration from the radical, working class interpretation of the Freedom Charter, because, since its adoption in 1955, there have been various meanings given to the Freedom Charter. The EFF’s interpretation of the Freedom Charter is one which says South Africa indeed belongs to all who live in it, and ownership of South Africa’s economic resources and access to opportunities should reflect that indeed South Africa belongs to all who live in it. The EFF’s interpretation of the Freedom Charter is that which says the transfer of mineral wealth beneath the soil, monopoly industries and banks means nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industries.
“The EFF’s interpretation of the Freedom Charter also accepts that while the state is in command and in control of the commanding heights of South Africa’s economy, ‘people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions’, meaning that there will never be wholesale nationalisation and state control of every sector of South Africa’s economy. Nationalisation of strategic sectors and assets will be blended with a strong industrial policy to support social and economic development.”
The EFF, is well aware that its position on the land is a radical departure from what has been said by the ANC or others in the liberation movement before, particularly the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) or even the Group of Eight, which was expelled from the ANC. That is why when we speak of our interpretation of the Freedom Charter in our Founding Manifesto, we do not really centre its take on the land question.
In essence, when we speak of the land, our position is not a dispute with the Freedom Charter or even its interpretation. We are in fact responding to a failure of land reform policy of “willing buyer, willing seller” used by the successive governments of the ANC since 1994, of which Mbeki has been part.
Thus, our non-negotiable cardinal pillar number one says:
“Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use.” In paragraph 39 to 41, the EFF Founding Manifesto expands as follows:
“The EFF’s approach to land expropriation without compensation is that all land should be transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state in a similar way that all mineral and petroleum resources were transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state through the Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act (MPRDA) of 2002. The state should, through its legislative capacity transfer all land to the state, which will administer and use land for sustainable-development purposes. This transfer should happen without compensation, and should apply to all South Africans, black and white.
“Once the state is in control and custodianship of all land, those who are currently using the land or intend using land in the immediate will apply for land-use licences, which should be granted only when there is a purpose for the land being applied for. Those applying for licences will be granted licences for a maximum of 25 years, renewable on the basis that the land is being used as planned. The state should, within this context, hold the right to withdraw the licence and reallocate the land for public purposes.
“State custodianship of land will mean that those who currently occupy land should apply for licencing to continue using the land and should clearly state in the application what they want to use the land for over a period of time. Under this legislation, no one should be allowed to own land forever, because those who have money can, over time, buy huge plots of land and use them for counter-developmental private purposes, such as using land as game farms. A maximum of 25 years can then be placed on all land leases applied for by private corporations and individuals, with the state retaining the right to expropriate in instances where the land is not used for the purpose applied for.”
The policy of the EFF advocates for the state custodianship of all land in the hands of both black and white people. This is in order to distribute the land equally on the basis of use. In this regard, no person, black or white, would hold a large piece of land without using it, while millions suffer landlessness. Each land must be allocated based on use to private citizens.
This position is doing something even more radical; land becomes a common property of the people of South Africa under the custodianship of a democratic state. This is new and relocates land outside the logic of capitalism as we know it today. The land belongs indeed to all.
Our Founding Manifesto then returns to the Freedom Charter and says:
“In line with the Freedom Charter and a new vision of agrarian revolution, the state should also provide implements and related extension services to help those who work the land to use it productively. Furthermore, the state’s procurement of food should prioritise small-scale farmers so that small-scale farming becomes a sustainable economic activity for the majority of our people. The state must buy more than 50% of the food for hospitals, prisons and schools from small-scale farmers in order to develop small-scale agriculture.”
Our reference to the Freedom Charter is not related to the articulation of the principle of expropriation of land without compensation. It is only related to state supply of implements and related extension services to help those who “work the land” to use it productively. Meaning we have gone beyond the idea of the Freedom Charter, which says:
“The land shall be shared among those who work it.” We are of the view that all land must be shared, in that no one must privately own land eternally. At all times, the democratic state must have custodianship of all South Africa’s land with the right to expropriate it without compensation for public use. Land must at all times be a collective weal, “shared” — not eternally belonging to one person.
That is why the CIC Julius Malema likes to say there is no factory of land, no one created the land. We only develop it, take care of it, and investments on the land should not be used to render the majority of the population to indignity and homelessness. Above all, investments on the land must never be an excuse to perpetrate the colonial crime of rendering the black majority landless.
Decolonisation and national liberation
This brings us to the heart of the matter, and that is what Mbeki and the liberation movement call the National Question. Here, the critical and historic matter has become whether social cohesion between black and white people can be achieved. In what way can racial cohesion simultaneously be resolved with the land question? Are there historic examples of the simultaneous resolution of land and racial cohesion? Does simultaneity mean the question of the land is equal in value with the question of racial cohesion?
Mbeki’s version of national liberation, which is in essence, the ANC’s, is the greatest scandal in the history of liberation struggles and decolonisation. This is because in all its articulations, it has ignored the fact of land theft by the oppressors. Even the ways in which it thinks of racial cohesion, the land is totally ignored in favour of an emphasis on civil rights. Often without or to the total disregard of the land.
This is critical because if Mbeki agrees with the idea of “expropriation of land without compensation” to address the injustices of the past, then there is no running away from the fact that such expropriation will be of white-owned land for the benefit of black people. Why? Because it is a fact that majority of the land is white owed! It is also a fact that land is in the hands of white people, who are a minority in South Africa, because of colonisation and apartheid.
The idea of discriminating against white people to address a past injustice should not be hard for Mbeki to comprehend because logically it is consistent with policies like Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). In the thinking of these policies there is no apology made on the logic of benefiting black people, Africans in particular, ahead of whites.
Now, it is not clear how a discourse on land expropriation without compensation offends the principle of non-racialism, according to Mbeki. If the national liberation struggle was for the liberation of black people from white minority rule, in what way is stating this fact an offence to the principle of non-racialism, unless for Mbeki non-racialism means we cannot not take land from white people to benefit blacks. In his pamphlet, Mbeki says:
“The principle and strategic matter at issue is therefore not about the manner of acquisition of land to address the Land Question in the context of the NDR. Rather, the matter at issue is and has been how our country should properly address the Land Question, bearing in mind the simultaneous challenge also to address the National Question. The question is what should be done to acquire the required land without communicating a wrong principle that such land acquisition is being conducted because sections of our population must surrender land they own to others who are allegedly properly South African, whereas such land owners are, in effect, not accepted by Government as being fully South African, enjoying equal rights with all other South Africans, black and white?”
How does this question arise? From the reading of the above interpretations of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) from Strategy and Tactics documents, it is patently clear that, Mbeki’s insinuation that national liberation’s objective of liberating black people from the oppression by white people is against non-racialism, is false. In a way, you could not succeed in demonising those who say liberation is about ending the oppression of blacks, particularly if you are speaking about national liberation.
If white people’s membership of and participation in the post-apartheid South African nationhood does not acknowledge the injustice of land dispossession, then it is flatly a false membership. This is because such a false membership depends on the perpetual subjugation of the black population and consignment to permanent landlessness. The rejection of this is a direct neglect of the land question in favour of a false nationhood.
For many people, this neglect of the land by the ANC starts with the adoption of the Freedom Charter, in particular its expression that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. As seen in Mbeki’s recent document, this is their definition of non-racialism; South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
Yet, nowhere in the Freedom Charter will you ever find the words “non-racial” or “non-racialism”. Even in the Strategy and Tactics as adopted in Morogoro there are no such terms. We see them for the first time in the Strategy and Tactics of 1997. They may very well have been part of the lexicon of other important documents of the ANC, but they are not in the Freedom Charter. Nevertheless, it is indeed an ANC common and preferred way of answering the National Question:
“South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”.
You will notice from the quotations of the EFF’s Founding Manifesto above on the Freedom Charter that EFF does not care to complete the statement and add, “black and white”. This is because in its repetition of the Freedom Charter, unless the African majority, the indigenous population has land, it is a meaningless, dishonest and bookish verbosity to say South Africa belongs to them.
For the EFF, national liberation without the land would be to turn a struggle for decolonisation into a struggle for civil rights. Civil rights are about being included in an already established polity as citizens, with full equality before the law. The question of decolonisation precedes the question of civil rights, because of land dispossession. Meaningful enjoyment of civil rights is contingent upon attainment of liberation — decolonisation that is. Meaning, before the principle of “the people shall govern”, these people must first be citizen-subjects, belong first to a sovereign nation-state. They are citizen-subjects of a nation-state because they belong to a specific piece of land or have claim to such a land.
A government of the people could not preside over a state without land, air, sea and river borders. Without a marked land, such a people are a landless nation and thus not a nation-state. A nation-state is by definition a government presiding over a marked land territory and a people. Without the land, the African majority in this country were more than just non-citizens, their claim to “belong” to South Africa was empty or vacuous speech.
Notice how the very first two lines of the Freedom Charter already carry a tension in this regard, between “our people” and “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. The charter says:
“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality.”
There is a clear difference between the “all” who belong to South Africa and “our people” who “have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace”. The Freedom Charter chooses the words “robbed” because land was “stolen” and it was stolen “by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality” — this is the white minority regime.
The Freedom Charter’s land clause also chooses carefully how to characterise the ending of racial ownership of land. It says “restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided among those who work it to banish famine and land hunger”. Although Mbeki places emphasis on land being “shared among those who work it”, he does not ask what the Freedom Charter envisaged when it said it must be “re-divided”. How would you re-divide land if in the first place you did not take it and then end “restrictions” of ownership on the basis of race?
The question of belonging to a nation-state can also be extrapolated through a government of the people. The idea that those who rule must be voted into rulership by those they rule. This is the terrain of “civil rights” inclusive of equality before the law. At the centre is the question of the franchise, which is an important marker of citizenry — those who have the right to vote and be voted for.
The question of the franchise under capitalist modernity has been dis-articulated from property or land ownership. In a capitalist nation-state a citizen is defined by the right to vote and be voted for, not land ownership. The Freedom Charter buys into this separation, even though it still places an emphasis on the indigenous African people who were robbed of a “birthright” to the land.
To fully appreciate the colonial crime on black people, the distinction between “human rights” and “civil rights” is here very instructive. The colonial problem, as stated in the beginning, is not a civil rights matter; instead, it is a human rights matter — it is a problem of colonialism as a crime against the humanity of its victims. Africans were not colonised because they did not have civil rights, or rather, the evidence of their coloniality was not the fact of having no civil claim to the governments that were colonising them. More appropriately, they were colonised because they are black and as black people. In the eyes of the white coloniser, that meant they were less than human.
Historically, the tradition of civil rights arises out of two important revolutions against monarchical rule. One was the British colony of North America which resulted into the American Declaration of Independence. The other had to do with the overthrow of the French monarchical rule by French subjects who wanted self-rule. The latter produced the influential “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens”.
Even following these two important events, within these two communities, the independent United States of America (US) and the post-revolution France, Africans were denied, not so much equal citizenship, but equal humanity. This is despite the developments in Haiti. The Haitian revolution, we shall do well to recall, was the first and only successful modern slave revolution prosecuted by African slaves of that French colony.
The Americans of North America were under British colonial rule, and they fought against British colonial power until they gained independence. Despite the participation of African slaves and the free African folks, upon attainment of independence, Africans were denied “civil rights” because the white folk did not recognise their humanity. They did not recognize Africans as equal human beings.
The civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. would only secure these “civil rights” in the 1960s, more than 180 years after the US Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. All along, they were part of the American nation, but as sub-humans who did not enjoy equality before the law. When the declaration was adopted, it stated:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
To be sure, Africans in America were not seen as possessing unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. An African in the slave plantations of the US could be killed by his or her master with impunity, because he/she did not possess the unalienable right to life; he/she remained property.
It is well known that the doctrinal basis of these declarations was the Enlightenment ideas of natural rights and the social contract used to delegitimise monarchies who ruled by divine right. In this respect the idea was and remains that there are rights which are natural, rights which are inherent to all human beings. Depending on which philosopher you are interested in (for example Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Thomas Paine) natural rights include the right to life, freedom and property.
The legitimacy of authority conceived through social contract theories came to rest on the understanding of these natural rights as natural and inalienable. By and large, natural rights are what today we call human rights – those rights upon which must be founded any social contract for it to retain any claim to legitimacy. The Constitution does not give us these rights; instead, these rights establish the Constitution, which serves as a social contract by which individuals and governments order their relations.
However, at the core of the problem is that the black is first and foremost not human, and for this reason all those who belong to this category do not qualify as having natural rights. To drive the point home even further, consider the fact that whites in North America were under British colonial rule, but even under these conditions they remained human, they remained part of the human race. Conversely, blacks who were also under British colonial rule, like their white counterparts, were denied their humanity. They did not possess natural rights; thus, they could not even be accorded the rights given to citizens or civil rights upon the attainment of US independence.
To fully appreciate this, I propose that we shift our inquiry lenses back to South Africa. The Ugandan intellectual, Mahmood Mamdani, opens his seminal study of the colonial and apartheid system, Citizen and Subject, with a discussion of Jan Smuts’s Rhodes Memorial Lectures at Oxford in 1929, in which Smuts attends to the question of how Europeans ought to rule over African natives or what in colonial policy discourse was known as the Native Question. The basic and principal assumption for a good colonial project relies on an understanding of Africans as perpetual children. Mamdani writes:
“The African”, Smuts reminded his British audience, is a special human “type” with “some wonderful characteristics”, which he went on the elaborate: “It has largely remained a child type, with a child psychology and outlook”.
Mamdani goes on to argue that the child type the colonialist considered the African to be was the one “destined to be so perpetually — in the words of Christopher Fyfe, ‘Peter Pan children who can never grow up, a child race’ ”. Smuts then goes on to recommend how a people “with a child psychology” should be ruled, since children cannot do anything without authority. He volunteered two concrete policy prescriptions; one being “institutional segregation” the other, “territorial segregation”.
Though convinced of the superior merits of territorial segregation, in South Africa it was too late to implement it since the natives already lived among Europeans. Thus, the option would be institutional segregation. The Nationalist Party (NP), which won elections in 1948, disagreed and upon taking power implemented territorial segregation which they christened apartheid.
This is where the problem lies. Mbeki and many in the ANC are unable to appreciate what colonisation, which established the conditions for the rise and establishment of the white minority nation-state in 1910, was and is all about. Colonisation is first and foremost the denial of the humanity of African people by Europeans who consider themselves superior.
It is quite noteworthy how each revolutionary declaration has an important set of specified natural rights, rights considered a priori. In the American Declaration of Independence, we find the three following rights, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” foregrounded. In the French version it is; “liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression”. More pertinent is the interestingly declaration in the Freedom Charter; “birthright to land, liberty and peace”.
No other revolutionary declaration makes the land an integral part of natural rights. Often the right to property is related to ownership of that which you create, at least from a bourgeoisie point of view. Nevertheless, at the Congress of the People in 1955, there must evidently have been someone who presented a perspective that humanity in the African context is inseparable from the land. This is lent even more credence in the religious self-perception of the African which places the ancestor who is below in the land, at centre of divinity.
It is evident then that the dehumanisation of African peoples was therefore made real by their dispossession of the land — what the Freedom Charter calls the robbing of the land. Above that, it is only through land dispossession that colonisation and apartheid manages to subjugate the black population to white people’s hatred, epitomised by their denial of black people’s humanity. It is, as it were, on the body of the land that this hatred which was systematised into a machinery of racial segregation laws that lasted over centuries, is inscribed. The removal of the racist coterie of laws without the return of the land, in the ultimate creates a superficial and false resolution of the vexing question of the dehumanisation of black people.
What then of whiteness?
What begs for attention throughout this discussion is the question of white identity; what then of whiteness? A left and radical version of non-racialism ought to reject the white identity all together. In the least it must be as shameful to be white and to perpetuate being white as it is to be a Nazi. To be white is only ever important as a marker to distinguish oneself from blacks, which means as long as there are whites, there must be blacks. To be white is to presuppose your superiority based on your skin colour over someone who you define as black and therefore inferior.
This is true because when on their own, white people do not need the white identity. They distinguish themselves according to either class, ethnicity or nationality,that is, English, Dutch, German or French. The white identity is only ever important to mark themselves in relation to blacks — as Biko teaches us, blacks are all those who are defined as non-white. In South Africa this white identity found profound crystallisation within Afrikaner nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The fact that the word Afrikaner literally translates to African, notwithstanding, the nationalists insisted that only those of European decent could be Afrikaners. Meaning that by Afrikaner they mean whites.
This scandal is of historic proportions because Afrikaner nationalism sought to disempower the indigenous population of their identity as Africans — those belonging to this identity and to this continent. Following the logic of colonial discourse these were the first Africans possessed of the capability for humanity. Put differently, these were the original African humans.
These were real special racists because to this day, conceiving of themselves as settler communities is still nigh impossible. They think of themselves as products of the African soil. The land to them is a birthright. Nothing could therefore be more empowering to their distorted sense of themselves than Mbeki’s version of non-racialism which locates them as part of “our” identity. Mbeki says we must accept their claim, even if this claim resulted in the land dispossession of indigenous populations. Worse still, even if we know it resulted in the brutal genocides and massacres of many peoples of colour.
Some may interpret President Mebki’s move as foolish or as a sign of cowardice. Such a conclusion I am convinced would be in error. Mbeki’s move, which is the liberation movement’s, represents a great human gesture. When Nelson Mandela mobilised all black people into a peaceful pact with the white minority, without immediately tackling the tough question of the land, it really was not a move symptomatic of cowardice. It was a move of the greatest faith in their humanity, a true leap of faith which, 24 years later, has not translated into mutual recognition from the white population.
With the greatest moral high ground, massive international and grassroots support, President Mandela would have managed to force land on to the table and win a meaningful resolution than, willing buyer willing seller, during negotiations. Yet, together with the ANC, they did not, owing to the sensitivity of the question at the time and how its resolution threatened the white settler community’s trust in a post-apartheid South Africa. These founders of the new South Africa cared for the insecurity of white people, they were genuinely sympathetic to their fears. Thus, they extended themselves, and by extension all black people, to demonstrate their humanity so that white people could develop trust in their leadership and intentions about truly building a non-racial South Africa.
Twenty-four years post-1994, the entire white population still holds the resolution of the land question as a direct threat to their membership of the South African nation. President Mandela’s gesture, articulated by Mbeki in the classic acceptance speech to the new democratic Constitution, was basically the African opening up their humanity, opening themselves to the European settlers, despite centuries of base dehumanisation and violence.
With the politics of forgiveness, reconciliation and rainbow nation, they were saying a new chapter of common humanity can indeed be realised. An invitation to trust and a leap of faith to trust the settlers, with the hope of a return, a look back, a touch back and a feel back. But, alas, European settlers’ humanity remains impervious to the African, locked in the highest echelons of the monuments of their superiority complex.
Here, we are in a state of the classic failure of the dialectic as conceived in the western canon. For Hegel, politics is born out of the struggle for recognition, which is the struggle to the death. When the slave struggles for recognition from the master, it does so from realising itself in the work of its production (the product). This realisation makes it to enter into a struggle to the death with the master which is resolved by mutual recognition and thus the founding of equality, expressed as self-consciousness recognising another self-consciousness.
Fanon, however, notices that in the colonial anti-black situation the slave’s struggle to the death is not considered as a human struggle at all. Fanon posits that the white master does not see the consciousness of the black slave, instead he laughs at this consciousness. The struggle to the death does not result in self-consciousness recognising another self-consciousness, a mutual inter-dependence. Even after war, the white master does not see herself/himself in the black, free or unfree (Haiti is a perfect example of this failure).
Post-colonial studies has grappled with this problem of the politics of recognition in post-colonial societies for some time now. One of the authoritative voices in this scholarship is Maldonado-Torres, who takes Fanon’s critique of Hegel further and arrives at an even worse conclusion, that white people are incapable of receiving gifts from blacks. When a black person forgives the white, they do not see this as a human gesture to which they must respond with remorse. After all, how could the master’s dog forgive the master?
He demonstrates the limitations of the western canon in the resolution of the anti-black problem in that there is nothing black people can do to attain mutual recognition as equals from whites. Going to total war does not help, and even peaceful resolutions do not help. Blacks are therefore on their own. To build a human world they have to resort to total love for each other. The energy must be spent building a human world for blacks in which what white people feel is not a precondition or condition for resolutions.
To fully appreciate this, one only need ask; where are the traces of evidence of any remorse by white people for the colonial and apartheid crimes against the humanity committed against Africans and blacks in general? You will not find white people anywhere conceding to let go of privilege in lieu of the fact that such privilege came as a result of colonial inhumanity. To this day, organised white political formations, even trade unions, reject affirmative action and BEE. The problem of the National Question is therefore truly deeper than we black people often want to present it.
It is not a black problem, nor is it a problem black people can help white people with. It is a problem of white people’s inability as a group to be impacted by all efforts to have them believe that as blacks we are not seeking revenge, neither are we after their elimination as human beings. They are therefore the only ones that can save themselves from the distrust they feel towards any action African engages in to build a free and humane world for all.
The clinging to white identity is the greatest indicator of this refusal to accept change. The insistence that they are white people is a statement of clinging to privilege attained because of the colour of their skin.
However, if we are to realise non-racialism, we must make no apology that South Africa belongs to Africans, period. Here, one’s skin-colour is not a marker of subservience or superiority. White people do not belong in South Africa. As long as they are not willing to shed this destructive, racist and inhuman white identity, we should really not be bothered if they leave the country or start war.
Anyone’s membership to this nation must depend on their willingness to identify with the indigenous population. If you cannot see yourself when you look at the indigenous African population, if you cannot feel a commonness with them, you really should not be here. The day you feel that commonness, you will appreciate that Africans cannot buy their land back, they simply deserve it. If for this claim, whites start a war, including successfully mobilising the entire white world to kill us or isolate us, so be it. Any plan to avoid this consequence is submission to their superiority.
African human ontology which is often extrapolated through the dictum of umuntu ngu muntu nga bantu, sees recognition of one’s self through other selves as the basis of humanness. If you could not recognise yourself through others, if you could not explain the other to yourself, see in the other, yourself, then you have failed to be human.
There is simply nothing the African can do to make the white trust them with their future. The white is hellbent on being white, thus without openly indicating that in this county there is no place for whites, you live at the mercy of their superiority complex for the rest of your days.
Land must be expropriated without compensation for equal redistribution. If white people stay, then it is fine, and if they leave the country, that too is fine. They will be running away, not from those they call blacks, but from themselves. They fear the very evil of their hearts that has painted the whole world with the killing of what is most human in us all, freedom. We cannot save them by playing to the illusion of their superiority simply because we too fear an existence without them. For a more humane world, we must proceed on the policy of land expropriation, we must do this with all the full intuitions to make South Africa a better place to call our home.
We accept white people as human, we will always treat them as human and we have never had any problem historically to see them as human. We have a task to fix the damage they have created which is the dehumanisation of black people. We know for sure that in doing this, we must confront racist and white privilege. We do so, not because of hate, but because of the deep desire to see the re-humanisation of Africans and blacks in general. Now let us return to the beginning, and by way of reformulation of Mbeki’s genuine, but failed gesture, say”
“I am formed of the colonisers who left Europe to conquer us on our native land. Their actions, centuries later, remain still a part of me. To this day, they fail to conceive equal citizenship with me, as with the mosquito and the rhino. A denial of my native land that is my being.
“I am an African. I owe my being to my native land, held away from me by law, by the gun, and by visitors who long abused the hospitality of my ancestors, my native land.” DM