Loud echoes from the South’s drum beats of land rights

By Gabriel Dolan | Sunday, Sep 2nd 2018 at 00:00
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South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa

Donald Trump leaves no thought unspoken in his daily tweets. Yet every tweet reveals the character, prejudices and ignorance of the man. Most recently, this was displayed in his first ever tweet about Africa when he directed his Secretary of State to investigate the killings of white farmers and land seizures in South Africa.

This tweet followed Mr Trump’s viewing of a very biased and misinformed story on his favourite Fox News Channel concerning the proposed expropriation of land by the African National Congress (ANC).
Such inaccurate utterances just spread racism and ignorance while reigniting the white supremacy agenda that bedevilled that beautiful nation for nearly a century. In the process, he got support from that group of his supporters who believe that the Caucasian population in the US is also under siege from outsiders.
Yet lies spread much faster than truth and nowhere is it acknowledged that the white population in South Africa represent eight per cent of the nation yet control 70 per cent of the land. Worse still, the black population are 80 per cent but only control four per cent of the land.

The Apartheid regime was established with the introduction of the Native Lands Act in 2013 that gave the foreigners control over the land and paved the way for the establishment of the Bantustans or homelands for the indigenous population. Hundreds of thousands were forcefully removed from the fertile land that had been their homes from time immemorial and coerced to relocate to a land that was infertile and hostile.

The history of forced expropriation of African land was not mentioned in the Fox News or Trump tweet. The reference to the killings of white farmers was also conveniently airbrushed. In fact, the killings of farmers in SA were at an all time low last year. Forty-seven were killed down from 66 the previous year and an all time high of 153 in 1988.

Yet the land reform programme in South Africa has been an abysmal failure. The option of willing buyer willing seller has only delivered minor changes in land ownership with only eight per cent of the land changing hands in the last 25 years.

It was inevitable, with the unemployment rate running at 27 per cent, that more pressure would come for the expropriation of land in the hands of whites. Of course the emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) under the tutelage of Julius Malema as an alternative voice to the ANC did resonate with the poor majority frustrated by the failure to see significant change since the end of Apartheid.

The threat they pose in next year’s general election is well understood by the ANC leadership and in particular, by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This past week, the ANC withdrew the Expropriation Bill for amendments to ensure that the right to expropriate without compensation would be included. That sparked a reaction, but it appears that the proposal is initially intended to address the issue of unused land or deserted buildings. Mr Ramaphosa is too shrewd a businessman to allow his country to go down the road of Zimbabwe and he says there will be ‘no land grab’. That would put the economy and country security at risk. However, he is also aware that doing nothing will much more likely cause the chaos that Trump speaks of.

The expropriation of unutilised land is perhaps the first step and it gives the white landowners the opportunity to reflect and cooperate in a meaningful and sensible manner on how best to return stolen land and still live in harmony without resorting to conflict or poverty.

Ramaphosa has to act promptly and prudently because populism by EFF may oust the ANC out of office. The ANC says that expropriation will not jeopardise food security and that is important.

There is no easy route forward, but the focus must be on the landless and the poor who are still forced to build ever larger sprawling townships near every urban centre. The patience of the poor is running out and EFF will capitalise on that. South Africa remains the most unequal society on earth and the foundation for that inequality is the land issue.

Kenya of course is regarded as the third most unequal society in the world and that injustice is also related to the land question. What Malema started in SA has certainly influenced the protest movement in Uganda led by Bobi Wine. There is a growing thirst for social justice on the continent and sooner, rather than later, that will reach Kenyan shores.

gdolan54@gmail.com @GabrielDolan1

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