Guest Column

The heritage of orphans: Why land expropriation is imminent

2018-09-13 08:00
Stellembosch Land invaders protesting outside the High Court

Stellembosch Land invaders protesting outside the High Court

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Zipho Nabe 

September marks a period in the year where we will witness South Africans, perhaps more than any other time of the year, declare how "proudly South African" they are because it is Heritage Month. 

Government departments, and at times private businesses, will encourage their employees to adorn themselves with their traditional regalia on designated days during the week throughout the month. This euphoria will culminate on the 24th of September, the day specifically set aside as Heritage Day.

The disheartening reality however is that heritage (which is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth or inheritance) has for many decades seen indigenous South Africans celebrate this auspicious day in a place they call home, but one they have no ownership of. 

For over two decades in the democratic dispensation of South Africa, only our traditions, customs, rituals, monuments, artworks and traditional clothing have been the focus of our celebrations of our heritage in our different tribes and collectively as a nation. However, the commemoration of Heritage Day in 2018 comes amidst heated debates on the issue of the ruling party’s policy announcement to amend Section 25 and expropriate land without any compensation.

Land central to emancipation

The centrality of land to economic development and social welfare, in the African context, is undeniable. From time immemorial, land has been used to promote economic growth and human development. While a birth right of every African indigenous person, land has always had a communal dimension in African tradition whereby all members of the community were expected to share its resources, especially in rural areas, under some form of traditional authority. 

From an African point of view, traditional authority is fundamental because, despite the fact that it is a uniting force, the leader of the community has always been viewed as an overseer (not owner) with divine authority over the land. 

Land resources under the stewardship of African traditional leadership were not only for economic development purposes only, but had significance to cultural and traditional practices. Continentally rituals related to rain-making, thanksgiving and prayer have always been tied to land and this connection has been no different in the South African context.

To this day, in many South African families the umbilical cord of a newborn baby is buried into the ground. In some communities that practice circumcision the circumcised foreskin of a young man is also buried into the ground. 

Africans further attach the sacredness of land to the fact that our ancestors are buried in this very land. It becomes evident therefore that to the African, land is not only a means of economic development or crop growing for food supply but rather an object of identity that is spiritual and far transcends any notion that land is purely a commodity to be used for economic, political and power advancement.

Colonial modernity clouds our perception

Though control of land has been linked to the complex interplay of economic, social and political power in the pre-colonial era seeing many tribes move from places they once inhabited because they had been conquered by stronger tribes (we would be amiss to romanticise that relations between the tribes were always smooth-sailing), it is colonial modernity that clouds our perception about the significance of land to purely economic lenses and denies all other forms of ownership of land.

After acquiring land, the colonisers commercialised it and later inflated its price leaving the majority of South Africans with no land of their own. This dehumanising act literally left indigenous South Africans as orphaned exiles in the land of their fore-fathers. It rendered the practice of traditions, customs and rituals passed down from our ancestors incomplete and devoid of their true meaning when that which was central to all is still in the tightened grip of the coloniser. 

It rendered the commemorative events we host annually as a simple ploy to keep many dancing and ululating to drum beats in the belief that things have significantly improved since the dawn of our "rainbow nation" when in reality land ownership is still largely racially skewed and the dignity, identity, languages, cultures and spiritualties of those who were disposed remain unrestored. 

The shrill outcry by those against the expropriation of land without compensation as proposed by the governing party are proof that these proponents are either ignorant to how the concept of land is defined in the African context or insistent of Euro-Americanism to exert itself and its definition of concepts as superior to all others in the world and thus the only way things should be done. 

Expropriation of land without compensation is not devoid of economic considerations as the economic is part of the social, the political, the spiritual, the cosmological and the philosophical. In the African context, life and what it is constituted of is viewed as a totality and land is part of that totality. Africa’s children can no longer languish disjointedly from that which connects them to God, the universe, nature, their ancestors and humanity as a whole; they can no longer be orphans in a land they received as an inheritance from God simply because of a view that refuses to see the connectedness of land to life and livelihood beyond economic terms. Expropriation of land is imminent and only then shall our heritage be complete.

- Zipho Nabe is registered for a MBA at Regent Business School. She holds a B.Com degree in Information Systems and Honors from the University of Fort hare. She is currently working as an financial system trainer for the Eastern Cape Department of Treasury.   

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Read more on:    land expropiation  |  land


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