One of the most fundamental aspects of our existence, as a people, is the significance we attach to culture, heritage and land. Throughout history, our attitude to land was premised on our profound reverence for it and characterised particularly by the absence of individual ownership thereof.
Historical land dispossession is regarded by many as a hindrance to the exigent need for our economic emancipation and social advancement.
Land considered for restitution to us was generally acquired through one or both of the following sacrilegious methods: colonial conquests or instruments of the apartheid system.
White colonialists descended on these shores as conquerors with no intention to assimilate with the indigenous people nor subject themselves to their norms, culture or authority. Colonialists’ subjugation of the indigenous black people through persuasion or force of arms ensured unlawful land dispossession.
The Land Act of 1913 alienated blacks from whatever vestiges of land they still owned and controlled. This was followed decades later by persistent black community displacements and restrictions on our movement which were systematically effected through apartheid instruments such as the Group Areas Act and Influx Control regulations.
What sustained us as young adults was the promise – inculcated in us as we became politically active – that land and dignity would one day be restored to the dispossessed.
The fact that our transition from apartheid state to democracy was a negotiated one may have ensured that political expediency trumped sobering calls for the resolution of the land question. It is now apparent that in sidestepping the land issue, our representatives were setting up what many fear may be a time-bomb.
With both the Economic Freedom Fighters and the ANC working on what appears to be oversimplified premises, an analysis of what each party’s position on this issue is necessary.
The EFF’s position
On the one hand, the EFF is advocating for land expropriation without compensation. Dismissed by some as political opportunists, the EFF’s position is however lucid and premised on the argument that whites’ acquisition of land was unjust and unlawful. Put simply, the EFF contends that there is no basis under law to legalise unlawful transactions. Whites can therefore not expect protection nor enjoy benefits derived from unlawfully acquired property, argues the EFF.
However, the EFF has recently failed to convince a prevaricating ANC to join forces with it to effect expropriation of land without compensation. This was despite the ANC president’s earlier public pronouncements that seemed to resonate with its position.
The ANC’s position
On the other hand, the ANC position on land reform seems to be fluid and dependant on the prevailing audience. Firstly, its position as articulated through its 53rd conference resolution on land is generally consistent with the Constitution. This would be expected of an organisation seized with the responsibility of ensuring stability in the economy.
Let me hasten to state that the above should not diminish the considerable progress the ANC has made over the years in making land available to blacks.
However, the palpable dissonance within ANC ranks on the land issue does not bode well for an organisation that seeks to usurp de facto leadership on this issue from the EFF.
Poring over the 2017 ANC policy conference discussion document section dealing with land, I had expected interrogation of pertinent questions such as:
- Should the ANC pursue a deliberate strategy to locate most new settlements nearer work opportunities?
- What about the vast tracks of land owned by universities and mines, including mine dumps that lay fallow?
- How can the ANC facilitate the emergence of large, sustainable black-owned property developers and commercial farmers through land restitution programmes?
- What is required to mitigate continued, irreversible destruction of limited arable land by coal and other open cast mining methods? and
- Should the ANC’s position on foreign-owned entities ownership of land remain unchanged in view of the growing demand for land by blacks?
Sadly, the ANC’s policy discussion documents do not offer much new nor do they generate excitement on the land issue.
Contradictory messaging by the ANC notwithstanding, there appears to be no fundamental differences between it and the EFF on the land issue.
What sets the two apart is the ANC’s seeming reluctance to cross the Rubicon.
Political parties need to appreciate that, over time, blacks’ attitude towards land have evolved and no longer homogenous. In a capitalist or mixed economy, individual land ownership is preferred to communal ownership. Any land reform programme that fails to consider this is bound to fail.
What makes the land issue so emotive and seemingly intractable is the fact our acquiescence, forgiveness and patience remain largely unrequited by our white compatriots. Nowhere is the arrogance of whites demonstrated so well as in their insistence that we accept the status quo that entrenches their dominion.
It should remain a concern to all that the land issue may be used by both the populists and increasingly restless society to vent their general frustrations with the ANC government on many other issues.
Fortunately, and unlike our neighbours north of the Limpopo River, fellow white compatriots can take comfort in the knowledge that most of us are not yet exasperated, vengeful or impatient over the direction and speed with which land restitution occurs.
But then again, for how long shall our patience endure?
Khaas is executive chairperson of Corporate SA, a strategic advisory consultancy firm based in Johannesburg