A man rebuilds his shack with both burned and new iron sheets after a fire in Masiphumelele, Cape Town. File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA
A man rebuilds his shack with both burned and new iron sheets after a fire in Masiphumelele, Cape Town. File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA

Land expropriation without compensation MUST go ahead, WILL go ahead

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 3, 2021

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Since Parliament adopted the resolution on expropriation of land without compensation in 2018, the debate has stuck on two fronts: on the historic lamentations and land grievance in relation to land hunger due to colonial dispossession, as well as on the parliamentary palace politics as political parties try to out-manoeuvre one another on bureaucratic and lexicographic technicalities.

There is a fierce ideological battle not only over the substantive elements of the constitutional 18th amendments to make the expropriation of land without compensation possible, but on the vocabulary and the exact phraseology of this process.

It was Mao Tsedung who said: “In class society, everyone lives as a member of a particular class and every thinking without exception is stamped with the brand of a class”. Meaning, nothing is class neutral in a class society. It is in this context that the battle for land expropriation with or without compensation should be understood.

It is common cause that, in times of relative peace and stability, the triumphant governing elite tend to suffer temporal disorientation, and lose grip and surrender power over to reactionary forces.

The paradox is that the DA, Freedom Front Plus and AfriForum coalition are fully aware of this and will try hard to use the amendment process as a proxy war to advance a right-wing class offensive to protect privileges gained on race, while the ANC-led alliance partners are consumed by self-illusions.

The EFF with other black parties will have to shift the focus from the race spectrum to national and class dimensions of this paradox to solidify the national and class hegemony over the land question. The EFF‘s position is that land will be distributed equally among citizens regardless of race, and it will be taken from those who do not use it and be given to those who have intentions to work it. However, the left/right or race/class distinctions will determine the hegemony of the contending forces and their victory.

The right-wing coalition, as described above, is emboldened by the moderates within the majority of the black parties (outside of the EFF) and the neo-liberal-left inside the ANC seems not to be in a radical mood and lacks appetite for an uncompromising thorough-going land reform. And this lack of radical mood and temporal disorientation of the left during this period should be viewed as downright reactionary and fertile breeding grounds for counter-revolution.

The land dispossession by the colonial forces, together with stock theft, the genocide of the indigenous people committed in the process and notwithstanding the immense pain and suffering of the indigenous people from Africa, Latin America, Australia and America, is the historic fact that is well recorded in the annals of history. There can never be any dispute among the majority of the people on this fact, except from the few mentally deranged and bloodthirsty lunatics.

To keep repeating many times the injustices meted out to the indigenous people by the colonial evil forces will never resolve the land question. We must go beyond lamentations to the nuts and bolts of policy options.

Land is freedom and prosperity. There is no doubt that the struggle for decolonisation was primarily about the land question. Clearly, the land dispossession represented the enslavement of the indigenous people and the destruction of their independence as a nation.

It’s therefore nonsensical to reduce the current debate on expropriation of land to the historic debate about the land grievance, however tempting or gloried. We must up-scale the debate to a different level which none of the liberal political parties across the board are either willing or prepared to do.

The primary question with regard to land expropriation is not the historic grievance, which is legitimate and can never be dismissed, but the modalities of expropriation. How must we go about the expropriation regime without just changing the faces of the owning elites? How must we distribute the land but without ensuring that the exploitative relations of production remain unchanged? This is the primary question that we must address. And this is not what all liberal political parties are seized with.

With the exception of the EFF, all other political parties are tall on the question of the historic land grievance, but thin on modalities of ownership or usage.

All parties that are committed to expropriation of land as the primary productive force must release a policy that outlines how the land that is expropriated is going to be owned or used beyond various statements of intent. This is a fundamental question; unless it is addressed, a call for land expropriation will be delegitimised by right-wing parties and perhaps hard to be supported. Unless this fundamental question is addressed, any support for land expropriation will be just hot air and rhetorical, without any substance.

We are faced with a paradox, in that for the debate on expropriation to be meaningful, it must focus more on the nitty-gritty of patterns of ownership and land-use. Otherwise, any debate on expropriation will be nothing but idle talk that will not change except to further entrench the exploitative relations of production, save for the change in the complexion of the exploiting class. This is what we must combat.

To go beyond the historic lamentation of the historical and land grievances, answers to the following primary questions must be provided:

* How should we go about the expropriation regime without just changing the faces of the owning elites?

* How should we distribute the land but without ensuring that the exploitative of production remain unchanged?

* What modalities and model of either ownership or land-use should we propose that will ensure those who work the land are the direct beneficiaries of surplus?

* Will the pale class of exploiters of European extraction be replaced by a new dark class of African extraction?

* How, in the final analysis, is expropriation going to yield a change in the complexion of ownership, relations on land and subjugation of the exploiting classes?

It is only by answering all these questions that is it possible to understand the underlying question: Who stands to benefit from expropriation?

The primary and principal objective of progressive parties and movements of the left, whether communist or socialist, has always been the removal of the liberal and right-wing parties’ political and ideological mainstay, that terrible holy grail of capitalism – private property, in Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights, which has been considered not only in the last century but since antiquity as one of the major, if not only, obstacles to equality and justice for all.

The triumph of land expropriation without compensation through constitutional amendment would be the removal of the private property clause and the abolition of private ownership of land and property in general.

Therefore, land expropriation without compensation must:

* Abolish feudal/semi-feudal patterns of land ownership and tenure (based on tribal or ethnic land claims).

* End colonial, apartheid and racial patterns of land ownership.

* Dismantle capitalistic forms and patterns of land relations embedded in the logic of private property ownership.

Upon achieving this, the question “Who stands to benefit from expropriation?” is unequivocally answered in that “it will benefit the landless, the poorest sections of the South African population, the rural and urban poor, who are forced to stay in squatter camps”.

The question of consensus on the proper lexicon and phraseology among various black political parties represented in Parliament is clearly pivotal when it comes to which words should be used in the amendments in order to help to craft a proud future and a solid legacy which shall have land restored back to the African majority, as the hallmark and a concrete manifestation of independence, freedom, sovereignty and prosperity.

This will ensure that we undo 400 years of historical, political, economic and cultural trauma of genocidal proportion in this country. This will be a triumph of our humanity over the barbarity of exclusionary policies and the lunacy of the right-wing fanatics.

The EFF’s call for land expropriation without compensation is just and legitimate. There can never be any form of justice like this!

* Sam Matiase is the EFF ‘s Central Command Team member responsible for Land and Agrarian Reform and an EFF member of Parliament. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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