The poor cannot eat land
Floyd Shivambu leans against the wall, staring at the beautiful Port Elizabeth beachfront. There is a look of anxiety mixed with exhaustion. It could be the young lady who keeps asking him "Why should I vote EFF?" or perhaps it could have been the senior ANC members occupying almost every table inside the venue. Eventually, he announced his departure and left.
Before that, he had surprisingly taken the time to respond to the lady. Mind you at 1am. He cleared his throat, and languidly told Tladi - that's her name - that the ANC is a liberation movement filled with old people with nothing new. He further unpacked the urgency of economic transformation and briefly touched on land expropriation.
I will admit, I was not paying attention. You cannot have Prince Kaybee's 'Gugulethu, Gugulethu!' hit song blarring in the background and someone talking politics at the same time. But, the land matter hit me.
There is something deeply troubling and disingenuous about anyone who promises anyone else land. Especially here in South Africa.
I would go as far as saying be sceptical of anyone making land promises. They do not have your best interests at heart.
Firstly, no one really wants land unless they have commercial farming objectives or have the resources and connections to instantly develop their own Waterfall, Sandton, Century City or Steyn City.
You are not thinking about land if you cannot work it or get something out of it.
Which is why, when those who are offered land tend to take the money if the option exists. Why?
When you are hungry the last thing on your mind is something as vastly abstract as the land. You cannot eat it. You cannot move around with it. Simply put: it requires patience, work and imagination. If you tell me you are hungry right now and I respond with "Here, take this piece of land" will I have solved your problem? Exactly.
So this narrative of giving people back the land is very misguided. People want money. I would be more receptive to any party that says it will give them money for doing absolutely nothing. Just money. Good old filthy lucre. A party that says it will take money from the rich and give it to the poor. That is why the social grants work very well in this country; we have more than 17-million people receiving these grants. And you can bet your arse that those of them who are registered to vote will be voting for the ANC. This is not rocket science.
I stared at Floyd and wondered if he genuinely believes in his land utterances. Or have they as a collective figured that talking land is a neat way of riling up the masses through a narrative of dispossession? This might work with middle class and educated blacks who have these sudden / woke / newly-found retribution desires for the ugly past we come from. It is sad. And I can assure you a mind occupied with revenge can never be clear; any and everyone who does not agree with you becomes the enemy and you end up being distracted.
If we are to talk about land let us talk about building new cities, new economic areas and developing residential areas around those.
If we are to talk about land let us talk about the urbanisation of black South Africans; property prices must be dropped for the previously disadvantaged. Let us work on ways of subsidising urban living or interest-free home loans for the previously disadvantaged. Lower electricity and rates even. The playing field is not yet even. There should be quotas for cities that ensure that at least 50% of those residing in them should be earning less than R10 000 per month.
We have to understand that apartheid geography and spatial development was very intentional in its origins. Forced removals must be reversed and whichever ruling party must take stock of the land. Do not promise to give land, promise to use land to benefit people. Bring people to the cities or bring the cities to the people.
* Unathi Kondile is editor of Isolezwe lesiXhosa.