Expropriation, Disrupted Land and the IRR

People lining up outside the Kimberley City Hall for the public hearings into land expropriation without compensation. (Jan Gerber, News24)
People lining up outside the Kimberley City Hall for the public hearings into land expropriation without compensation. (Jan Gerber, News24)

The IRR's attack on AfriForum unfortunately underlines the fact that there is little space for nuanced debating in South Africa, and that nobody dares to put an alternative point of view to the ruling order's view of the past, writes Kallie Kriel.

Proponents of expropriation without compensation are trying their level best to justify the immorality of taking a person's property without paying for it, by propounding the myth that all white people are land thieves who have stolen from black people all the land they possess. 

Therefore, with a view to effectively combatting expropriation without compensation, it is essential that proponents of property rights should use facts to disprove the myths about land ownership. It is within this context that Forum Films in collaboration with AfriForum has produced the documentary Disrupted Land and put it on YouTube to enable as many people as possible to view it for free.

In the documentary, facts about time and place are given on the history of land ownership in South Africa. It is pointed out that the Khoisan were here before white and black people, that tribal wars such as the Mfekane left large parts of the country uninhabited, that treaties to acquire land were concluded between the Voortrekkers and traditional leaders, that in many instances there was cooperation between the Voortrekkers and traditional leaders and, of course, also that there are several examples of injustices committed against black people before and during apartheid. 

READ: Verwoerd 'documentary' must be retracted, urges IRR, AfriForum says 'nee wat'

Forum Films took a lot of trouble to include interviews with a wide variety of people with different views on history and land ownership in the documentary. An interview was even conducted with the BLF. The nature of a documentary is precisely to reflect a variety of points of view to enable viewers to decide for themselves what their point of view is. 

It is therefore a pity that the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), an institution that prides itself on saying that all points of view – even those you disagree with – should be heard, has used one point of view that it disagrees with to discredit the documentary as a whole. 

AfriForum believes in openness and that all points of view should be heard. In view of this, AfriForum respects the IRR's right to disagree with the point of view of a contributor to the documentary and the way it is presented. For example, I personally also disagree with several statements by people interviewed in the documentary, such as the BLF's argument that communism offers the solution for South Africa, for example. If the IRR's logic was carried out to its full consequences, the IRR would also have been able to accuse AfriForum that we extol communism, because not all the negative consequences of communism are featured in the documentary. 

The IRR's attack on AfriForum unfortunately underlines the fact that there is little space for nuanced debating and diverging points of view in South Africa, and that nobody dares to put an alternative point of view to the ruling order's view of the past.

Those who dare to do so are immediately maligned and falsely stigmatised as apologists of apartheid. It is a fact that apartheid resulted in people's dignity being violated. Forced removals were an injustice and oppressive. This, however, should not mean that the inclusion of any alternative points of view to the ruling thinking in a documentary should be prohibited.

The unnuanced criticism by the IRR of AfriForum and the documentary not only holds negative consequences for both organisations, but also essentially weakens the case of those who are fighting for retaining property rights. 

The bona fide attempt to show that the history of land ownership in South Africa is more complex than merely portraying white people as land thieves, is now with the aid of the IRR being downplayed falsely as an attempt to defend apartheid. This is underlined by the fact that the IRR's attack on AfriForum elicited loud applause by ANC politicians advocating expropriation without compensation. Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi, for example, with great delight said on Twitter, "Thanks IRR for taking a stand!" 

The false preconceptions that have been created around the documentary laid the table for Lesufi to even reject the reference to Dr Verwoerd as a "philosopher" as an attempt to glorify Verwoerd. This in spite of the fact that Verwoerd did indeed study philosophy and psychology. The distortion of the term philosopher to serve as an indication of extolling apartheid, shows how little space for any nuanced debating has remained.

The IRR has made use of the same malevolent strategy so often used by its opponents against the IRR itself, namely to intentionally ignore or even suppress certain facts in order to bolster their own distorted argument. One may only speculate as to the IRR's motives for this attack on AfriForum. What we do know is that the IRR recently has been the target of unjustified criticism from leftist quarters on some of its standpoints. 

The IRR's attack on AfriForum also came on the eve of a debate in which the IRR took part together with David Bullard. The IRR was falsely accused of siding with "racists" by conversing with Bullard. My impression is that the IRR decided to attack AfriForum in an effort to better position itself in the midst of these attacks. This strategy, however, is nothing new to AfriForum, because there are also some Afrikaans commentators who regularly launch attacks on AfriForum in an effort to render themselves more acceptable in the view of the governing elite.

Although AfriForum, unlike the IRR, also strives to promote minority and community rights, there are points of agreement between the organisations' views on the importance of the need to protect individual rights, right of ownership, the free market, the rule of law and the freedom of the press, among other things. AfriForum and I personally have great appreciation for the good work the IRR has done and is still doing in this regard. 

The IRR plays an important role. For this reason I am deeply disappointed that it now appears to have yielded to the ruling order's intolerance towards anybody who dares to advocate an alternative point of view. Yet I am also grateful towards the IRR, because the controversy it has created has already caused thousands of people to view the documentary on YouTube. Hopefully this will help stimulate healthy debate, creating more space for diverging points of view.

- Kriel is CEO of AfriForum.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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