Identity politics and abject poverty borne out of historical dispossession was the driving force of the previously voiceless, who were finally given a platform to speak about what land meant to them during the public hearings on land expropriation without compensation in Limpopo last week.
The Constitutional Review Committee travelled to four towns in Limpopo over a four-day period and listened to a couple of hundred opinions on the possible amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, which would allow expropriation without compensation.
The overwhelming majority of voices heard were brazen about their beliefs that white people had stolen the land and it should, therefore, be returned without money exchanging hands.
Political parties make a striking and lasting appearance at the hearings
Many of these voices also aligned themselves to the EFF, which was unsurprisingly, the most popular political party at each hearing in Limpopo.
Their popularity was easily observed by the predominance of the people who filled the venues, who would give EFF leader Julius Malema and party secretary-general Godrich Gardee a standing ovation as they entered the halls.
While the DA also had a good showing of members, who were part of the minority that spoke out against amending the Constitution, they were still few and far between.
ANC support was almost non-existent until the final hearing in Thohoyandou, where their colours were present – a tiny brook of yellow compared to the sea of red seen in the same town.
The identity and history of the land
In all four hearings, a reoccurring theme developed – that identity politics and historical dispossession played a pivotal role in the decision making of participants: those for and against land expropriation without compensation.
From the first hearing, race relations between black and white people were discussed and took centre stage in the contributions made by members of the public.
Most participants echoed similar sentiments about land reform and its necessity, stating that black people were dispossessed of land since the arrival of Europeans in Southern Africa in the 1600s. And it was this continued dispossession, which only ended with the dismantling of the apartheid system, that led to the economic chasm between white and black South Africans.
The inequality between the race groups was not treated with kid gloves. Most black participants expressly stated that land should not be compensated because it was previously stolen.
From the get go, it was a highly sensitive and emotive issue
Some remarked that at best, white people should be handed their bibles, mirrors and spices - a symbolic reference to what settlers brought with them when they arrived in South Africa.
The lopsided ownership of land between black and white was also labelled as a core reason for the economic hardships that the majority of black people face in the country presently.
The consensus is that the oppression of black people had still not ended, despite the democratic dispensation having started more than 20 years ago. The only recourse: return the land and its resources.
Despite being blatant that white people were historically responsible for the repression of black people, most said that while the land should be returned, it should still be shared proportionately but equally between all who call South Africa home.
Those against amending the Constitution were made up of mostly black DA members, representatives of farming unions and a small percentage of actual farmers.
Interesting to note that while khaki-clad farmers attended hearings in all towns, very few opted to participate and most of them always left straight after lunch, not returning for the second session.
The minority view was that the Constitution did not need to be amended because there was appropriate land reform policy in place, but that the ruling government lacked the willpower to expedite restitution.
Others told the review committee that the government owned enough land and should start by handing that over to the people.
Other issues raised included food security and the collapse of the economy with investors leaving SA's shores if Section 25 was amended and land was expropriated without compensation.
Several farmers also defended themselves, saying it was a historical inaccuracy to say land was stolen by farmers.
They added that this ahistorical narrative had a leading role in the land issue being brought to the forefront.
Those against amending the Constitution had no other solution other than there being appropriate land reform policies in place that could be successful if remediated correctly.
In all four hearings, those against land expropriation were heckled and not a single white person's voice supported amending the Constitution.
Apart from heckling and jeering, palpable animosity did not transform into any antagonistic situation between the two groups present at the hearings.
This, despite a popular belief in each town that unrest would occur.
It was, however, made clear by the mass of people that participated in the hearings that wounds created by colonisation and subsequently the apartheid government had not healed and would not heal until reparations were made.
In this case, the people of Limpopo believe reparations = land.