The big land question: A call to accelerate restitution

2013-06-23 14:00

As we commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Natives Land Act, history imposes two options: either seek redress legally and peacefully, or face increased calls for an anarchic and violent takeover of land, as has happened on other parts of the continent.

In the eyes of those who suffered under apartheid or their descendants, the struggle for freedom will have been in vain if the land question is not addressed.

As much as one could point to a ticking time bomb should we fail to ensure access to quality education, housing, healthcare, sanitation and a myriad other public services, arguably our biggest challenge would be failure to ensure that our people have access to land.

In adopting the Freedom Charter declaration that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, we chose a route that says land ownership must not be based on where one stands with regard to the historical axis of the victor and the vanquished, as was the case under colonialism and apartheid.

The 1913 Natives Land Act was probably the most important piece of legislation codifying the colonial conquests by a minority white regime.

Many anti-colonial and anti-dispossession battles were previously fought against the invading colonialists, among them the Bambatha Rebellion. This goes to show how prepared our people were to die for their land.

Even before the arrival of white settlers, Africans had also fought battles of conquest along the defaults of clans, tribes and kingdoms.

No greater battles have been fought than for the control and ownership of the land. Colonialism itself was the desire by colonisers to control as much land as possible throughout the world for their own social, economic and political security.

That’s why, in their wisdom, the founders of the Organisation of African Unity decided to let sleeping dogs lie by declaring that the continental boundaries drawn in Berlin, along whose default lines battles of national independence were fought, should remain as they were, lest we plunge the continent into the flames of infinite boundary wars.

At continental and regional levels, the Berlin-inspired injustice will be offset by the gradual gravitation towards regional economic integration, thus nullifying the disadvantages that any community or nation state may have suffered as a consequence of the colonial boundaries ratified as legal by the Organisation of African Unity after it was formed in 1963.

In South Africa, the land question remains a thorny issue for the basic reason that from the land sprouts all sorts of economic, political and social-development opportunities.

Elsewhere on the continent, especially in Zimbabwe, the issue of land dispossession triggered a political conflict that led to economic decline, violence and economic hardships for many Zimbabweans.

The Zimbabwean example cannot be taken lightly. It represents a school of thought that at times found expression in radical circles in South Africa, which suggests that since the land was taken violently, it must be repossessed violently and without compensation.

We have taken the route of a legal and peaceful land reform, foremost of which is to pay for land claimed by descendants of those forcefully removed from their land through colonialism and apartheid conquests. Government estimates that roughly R30 billion would be required to complete the land-restitution programme.

Compounding the challenge of land restitution is that some landowners abuse the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle, overpricing the land being claimed and making it difficult for government to redress this very important issue facing our people.

It is important to remind all South Africans that the success of the land-reform programme will determine our country’s future political and economic stability, as it is essential for cementing national reconciliation.

Zimbabwe’s example loudly says that if we fail to implement the legal programme, a distasteful illegal and anarchic agenda lurks on the horizon.

Since it was on the basis of land dispossession that Africans became systematically marginalised, as we seek to redress the legacy of the past comprehensively, it would be a futile exercise if the socioeconomic emancipation of the African was spearheaded without addressing the fundamental land question.

Africans can rebuild their social and economic future from the ruins of the past only if they have a piece of land on which to do so. The ANC will continue to support the efforts to spearhead land redistribution and land reform as an important agenda item for nation-building and nationhood.

Without this, reconciliation, nation-building and a common nationhood remain a pipe dream.

»?Jackson Mthembu is the ANC’s national spokesperson

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