Land is a real issue

2018-05-06 06:00
In what seems to be a land invasion, community members of Olievenhoutbosch, north of Johannesburg, mark land they want to live on. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

In what seems to be a land invasion, community members of Olievenhoutbosch, north of Johannesburg, mark land they want to live on. PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla

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Our quest for land justice is not a pet issue for liberals, including their apologists and the hypersensitive, but an exigent national question that demands rational, cool heads. Like many, I hate the rising political noise and populist postures around the seemingly intractable land conundrum. But, I have a greater fear for silence or reckless pronouncements. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago South Africa featured briefly on the global “political turmoil watch-list” for all the wrong reasons. A well-orchestrated global misinformation campaign led by Afrikaner lunatic groupings, AfriForum and Suidlanders, ignited consternation and angst over purported “swart gevaar”, land “invasions” and “white genocide”.

This precipitated unprecedented diplomatic missteps by, among other countries, Britain and Australia, with the former coloniser threatening to unleash economic sanctions against South Africa. The two erratic sovereigns have since been forced to recant their ill-timed pronouncements, after it became apparent that their threats were premised on political petulance by, inter alia, the bigoted AfriForum.

AfriForum and its ilk seem to resent the fact that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the support of the governing ANC, successfully lobbied Parliament to pass a constitutional amendment that would “make it possible for the state to expropriate land in the public interest without compensation”, using democratic processes.

The fleeting political tranquillity that followed was punctuated by the passing on of liberation struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, which seemed to provide opportunities for embedded racism and pent-up political frustrations to be unleashed. If anything, her demise provided an ominous barometer of the parlous state national reconciliation is in, and the palpable political pain from our apartheid past, which still afflicts our society.

The interregnum between Mama Winnie’s passing and her burial exposed what some believe to be the shaky foundation our democracy is built on. This includes the much-heralded negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic SA, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the latter regarded by a restless, youthful majority as a failure.

EFF leader Julius Malema has, on many occasions, lamented the short end of the stick black people were left with after the negotiated political settlement by our forebears.

Rather than use the opportunity presented by the death of a liberation icon to reflect on the sorry state of our socioeconomic and political environment, we instead sought to, once again, tear each other apart. Wounds that seemed to have completely healed, were pried open as unfounded allegations of apartheid spies in our midst were recklessly levelled against some prominent individuals.

It ought to have been expected that Malema would pounce on the opportunity presented by the podium during the ensuing memorial and funeral service to set the political agenda by expressing, among other concerns, disquiet about the land issue. Malema must have irritated some influential and well-resourced individuals with the trenchant and widely debated eulogy that he delivered at the Orlando stadium.

The fresh carnations that adorned Mama Winnie’s grave had barely begun wilting when colourful AfriForum lawyer Gerrie Nel convened a press conference to, incredibly, announce his organisation’s intentions to pursue a private prosecution of Malema and others in respect of the alleged On Point Engineering corruption matter.

When allegations of corruption first became known over a decade ago, I was one of those individuals who expressed outrage publicly about reports of wanton malfeasance in Limpopo.

From school books that were ordered and paid for but never delivered to the needy school children, to roads and bridges that were built but couldn’t even withstand moderate Limpopo showers, it was clear that those fingered needed to be identified and held accountable.

Malema, when summoned to explain himself before court at the time, duly obliged. There was, and still is, no indication that Malema wished to evade accountability. In fact, it later became apparent that his political detractors may have wanted to see him vacate the political arena.

That the highly regarded former prosecutor, Nel, would blatantly and unduly seek to interfere with matters still under consideration by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), amounts to political opportunism and voyeurism of the worst order.

Even a legal layperson such as I am understands that private prosecutions are difficult to pursue and only granted in exceptional circumstances. In fact, legal pundits argue that AfriForum wouldn’t be able to meet the stringent requirements to pursue Malema in terms of applicable legislation, in the event that the NPA decides not to reinstitute charges against the EFF leader.

If the NPA should decide to reinstitute the charges, it is crucial that such a decision be rational and not tainted by political interference, or any suspicions thereof. AfriForum’s conduct doesn’t help the NPA attain this imperative.

It appears that AfriForum are yet to fully appreciate the pain of land dispossession, and the callousness with which this crime was committed against blacks by our former colonisers and architects of the apartheid system.

The dangers of recklessly frustrating legitimate demands by blacks for the return of the ill-gotten land, while demanding that blacks “forgive” on the former oppressors’ terms, could prove perilous for our nascent democracy.

In any event, forgiveness has never been a categorical imperative. The quest for racial reconciliation imposes a duty to seek absolution by those who benefited from the fruits of a historical injustice, particularly indirect beneficiaries of a heinous deed.

If there ever was any lingering doubt about AfriForum’s real agenda – to preserve white socioeconomic and political hegemony over the black majority – this seems to be vacated with every press conference the organisation convenes.

It is high time rational white South Africans, particularly the verkrampte, ponder practical ways in which they can contribute towards a shared vision and nationhood. White compatriots need to reconcile themselves with the pressing demands for restorative justice on land, and steadfastly commit to joining the rest of us in finding a lasting solution, for everyone’s sake.

Otherwise, the much-clamoured-for signal from Mama Winnie could be a perilous lightning strike for our nascent democratic order.

- Khaas is chairperson of Corporate SA and trustee of the Institute for the Advancement of Public Interest. Follow him @tebogokhaas

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