Zuma questions ‘lopsided’ land reform law, calls for radical action

President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Lulama Zenzile/File
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Lulama Zenzile/File

President Jacob Zuma has questioned the ANC government’s land reform law, saying that it was skewed against black South Africans. 

The Restitution of Land Rights Act was passed in 1994 to allow people who had lost their land due to the racially discriminatory policies of the apartheid government to claim back their land. 

The law was amended in 2014, extending the period to lodge land claims to June 2019. 

This morning, Zuma suggested that the law was failing the majority of the people who were dispossessed. 

“The very law that we have today to claim [land] is lopsided against black people,” he said. 

“It’s very difficult for you to prove that this land belongs to your ancestors and it’s very easy for a land owner to say you can’t get the land. That’s how the law is,” he added. 

Zuma was speaking at the annual opening of the national house of traditional leaders in Parliament. 

He began his speech talking about the importance of traditional leadership and the role traditional leaders played in the fight against apartheid and colonialism. 

He touched on government policies that were meant to address the needs of people living in rural areas, the economic struggles of the country and how everyone needed to pull together to improve the economy. 

He also urged traditional leaders to join the government’s campaign against racism in their areas. 

But he quickly switched to discuss the emotive issue of land and land reform. And he did not hold back. 

In a series of rhetoric questions, Zuma suggested that radical action was needed to deal with land reform. 

“Can we address poverty, inequality and unemployment without addressing the land question fundamentally? I don’t think we can.” 

He added that most land was taken in the 1800s, and the land that was taken after the 1913 Natives Land Act was small and insignificant, yet the government was focusing on this land. Zuma suggested that the 1913 cut-off date for land claims should be pushed back. 

“A general question arises in the process of us reclaiming land; what are we reclaiming?” 

He repeated a call made in the same address in 2014 and 2015 that traditional leaders must get together and procure the services of a legal firm that will lodge land claims on behalf of “all of us”. 

It was then that he mentioned that the current law dealing with land claims was “lopsided” against black people. 

“We need to look at the facts; where do these people who are in informal settlements come from? Where is their land? Is it a lie that the land was taken?” 

Zuma continued: “How do we deal with this question so that we can address poverty?” 

He urged the traditional leaders to raise the issues around land: “No need to be shy about it. Whether you are keeping quiet, you are undermined; you are named and given names every day; whether you try to make yourself nice, you are not looked at as a nice person, you are looked at as stupid and as every other thing (sic).” 

Zuma, who was in full song at this point, spoke about economic freedom in general. 

“South Africa is said to be a rich country in minerals; but it has the poorest people in poverty who own absolutely nothing. 

“The question that faces us today is: is freedom complete?” 

He said there were three basic things that related to state power – political power, economic power and security power. 

“Do we have these? We don’t. Can we then rest and say everything is done?” 

He said the majority of citizens in countries like China, Brazil and others were in control of their economies. 

“Are you in control of your economy? Not!” 

He warned that if the majority of citizens were not in control of their economy, it meant they were not in control of their country. 

The president who by now had the full attention of his audience, and was speaking off the cuff, returned to the script, joking that it he commented any more on the issue, people would think he was talking “Nkandla economy”.

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