Land is South Africa’s next big battle
…and it could be real messy!
By Richard Mammah
Recent reports from South Africa of a seeming increase in incidents of race-related violence that is in turn linked to the long-standing politics of land distribution indicate that the country may indeed be on the cusp of battling a really humongous challenge.
So very serious is the issue that after resolving the preliminary matters of ‘how to ease off the Jacob Zuma bull from the ANC china shop,’ it is clearly the most important subject of concern for stalwarts of the 115-year old organisation.
In the history of the ANC, discussions over the land issue have been very heated. And even more recently, fringe and breakaway parties like the PAC and the Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF have secured enormous political capital from the process.
Appreciating how much the land question remains a front-burner issue in South Africa and notably for the mass of poor rural South Africans, the Nkosazana Dlami-Zuma camp made it a top priority in the succession debates in the ANC. And though that slate did not win the topmost position in contest, the popularity of the subject was undoubtedly a prime factor that helped some of its other contenders find a place in the new ANC Executive.
And for good measure also, the party was also able to pass it as a major policy matter that it would be pursuing subsequently. And underscoring the popular appeal of the subject, the new ANC strongman, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has also assented to the need to work on the land question. The questions now then would be when would something concrete be done exactly about this long running point of grievance and how practically would it be carried out?
Indeed, if history and experience are our guides, the truth may very well be that matters relating to the land question are indeed issues that would just not be resolved so easily. This is because while the records speak very clearly to the fact that the historical owners of the lands in question in South Africa are the indigenous African people, there are also sub-text arguments on the challenge of determining which particular set of Africans should be so ‘awarded the trophy’ at this point, given the long history of migrations, settlements and re-settlements that have taken place in the country.
For example, you have the infamous ‘Great Trek,’ which refers to the eastward migration of the Dutch-speaking settlers, who had moved from their initial berth in the Cape Colony into the interior from about 1836, following the proclamation of British colonial rule in the area. But even before then, we have to primarily account for the earlier waves of ‘Boer’ migrations that date back to the 17th century formation of the Dust East Indian Company and its expeditions into and in the area.
On this score, some commentators – South African, African and non-African alike- are of the view that it is on account of the tenuousness of the challenge that the Mandela presidency had preferred to side-step it and rather work on softer side packs like Black Economic Empowerment, BEE. Overall, then, it yet remains on record as indeed one of the biggest limitations of the Nelson Mandela presidency.
In discussions last year with a notable and very well-traveled pan-African scholar of East African extraction, he made the point: Mandela’s side-stepping the land question was a major default in his presidency.
This perspective finds resonance even with the events of the last days of apartheid and the negotiations to bring about the new ‘rainbow republic.’ At that time, whilst the ANC and the National Party of outgoing President Frederik Willem de Klerk worked essentially around the issue, other groups like the Pan Africanist Congress, PAC and the Azania Peoples Organisation, AZAPO, insisted that it must yet remain on the front-burner.
The moderates had their way. South Africa moved on. But the limitations of comprador accomodation, the sheer scale of the crisis of poverty and disillusionment in the land, and the tragically kleptocratic failings of the Jacob Zuma presidency have presently combined to return the subject to the front-burner. And South Africans are waiting….
However, even as the politics of land continues to rank high on the template of politicians in South Africa, some analysts are also asking that very careful heed should be paid to ‘the day after expropriation.’
To shed some light on the practical challenges that are inherent in the process of land review, we will go no further than neighbouring Zimbabwe, where land has also been a thorny issue and was indeed to be one of the critical points of friction that assailed the just ousted President Robert Mugabe regime
In Nigeria also, the Land Use Decree of 1978 has continued to be faulted over its role in the emasculation of vast segments of the natural economy, through the foisting of ‘the real ownership of all lands in the country’ in the hands of the government!
Back to South Africa, the discussions over the possible impact of the new land policy have already begun with some commentators, advising caution. In one such reference, published in the journal, Business Tech, Bulelwa Mabasa, a director at Werksmans Attorneys, pointed out that there were indeed serious issues with ‘the current plans to allow for land expropriation without compensation.’
These include the facts that ‘eradicating the notion of compensation will not make expropriation any easier,’ the lack of ‘certainty on which land is available and/or has been earmarked for purposes of expropriation,’ as well as the plain truth that ‘current database and research conducted on land provides no certainty as to who owns what land.’
Other concerns he listed were that ‘there has been no indication on how investor confidence will be boosted and/or encouraged under the circumstance,’ the pronouncement has come in the context of a serious skills deficit in relation to land in general.’ and the fact that ‘there is no legislation or policy that obliges the State to provide institutional and financial support to those awarded with land,’ even as ‘the current track record is woeful!’
Of course the moral here is not a new one: ‘South Africa, look before you leap!’
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa