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The poor state of education is Hendrik Verwoerd’s fault. Black South Africans still own only a fraction of the land and white intransigence is to blame.
There you have it: the ANC’s stock response to two of its biggest failures after 18 years in government.
To play politics with the land issue is reckless in the extreme. It is an emotive question at the very heart of the legacy of three centuries of injustice and of the liberation Struggle.
President Jacob Zuma, most of his cabinet ministers and leaders of the SACP, the ANC Youth League and some trade unions regularly warn about the dire consequences if land is not redistributed much faster and at a bigger scale.
And then these politicians trot out the old statistics: whites own 87 percent of the land and blacks 13 percent, and the only reason the targets set in 1994 have not been met was because white farmers didn’t want to co-operate and want too much for their land.
According to the ANC Youth League’s Ronald Lamola a few weeks ago, Zimbabwe-like land invasions are inevitable: “If it happens, it will be their [white South Africans’] fault. They are not coming to the party.”
I attended the annual congress of the Free State Agricultural Union in Bloemfontein last week. I can tell you one thing for certain: these farmers are desperate to “come to the party”, if only they can find it.
But let’s start with the real facts, not the lies told by the political opportunists.
First, the state owns at least 25 percent of all land in SA. This includes the communally owned land, nature reserves and the large chunks belonging to the SANDF, parastatal companies and the provincial and local governments.
Just over 9 percent of the land surface is urban land: cities and towns, where about 60 percent of South Africans live.
Only about 68 percent is privately owned commercial land. About a third of it lies in the arid Northern Cape where only 2 percent of the population resides. It was estimated three years ago already that more than 15 percent of this land was black-owned.
So it is a lie that white people own 87 percent of SA’s land. It is probably closer to 50 percent.
This is still too high, but why does the government have to lie about the figures? To whip up emotions?
The above figures are corroborated by different sources, but researchers are quick to point out that until a comprehensive land audit had been done, the exact picture will remain fuzzy.
How can the government set a target if it doesn’t know who owns what? It doesn’t even know how much land the state owns. The responsible minister has now promised that the audit will be ready by the end of the year.
I was nervous when I spoke at last week’s Free State congress – with my political history, I thought I should have worn a bulletproof vest.
Instead I found a few hundred delegates deeply concerned about land reform and completely willing and keen to “come to the party”.
They realise now that substantial land reform is a cornerstone of redress, of reconciliation and indeed of their own future security as farmers. I was completely surprised by their pragmatism and by the progressive and realistic approach of their leadership.
But I was told many horror stories of the complete ineptitude, lack of capacity and sometimes corruption of the officials of the Department of Land Affairs. This is the real reason for the slow progress.
I was also given several first-hand accounts of how the hand of friendship and co-operation extended by agriculture leaders has repeatedly been slapped away by former president Thabo Mbeki and by the Zuma administration.
These farmers know it cannot be business as usual. They are more than prepared to compromise and sacrifice and to play an active part in establishing new black farmers on the land. They have even accepted that the principle of willing buyer, willing seller need not always be applied. All they ask is that the government reassures them that Section 25 of the constitution is the cornerstone for all new initiatives.
And they want the government and civil servants to stop treating them as the enemy of the people and rather use their knowledge and innovation to help find solutions.
They are, after all, the men who make sure South Africans always have food: they’re the best maize farmers in the world.
Don’t hold your breath, though. We’ll hear the same lies and threats at the ANC’s Mangaung congress in December.