Pretoria - This year marks 67 years since the original Congress of the People declared that: “the land shall be shared amongst those who work it”.
This bold statement, made amid heightened repression by apartheid colonial agents, marked a commitment that some steps, albeit limited, would be taken to confront the first sin of apartheid colonialism – violent land dispossession.
It is common cause that colonialists descended on to our land, and subjected natives to relentless attacks aimed at dispossessing them of their land. In return for the hospitality that natives showed them when they first arrived on our shores, the colonialists declared war on them. Wars of resistance led mainly by native kings and chiefs ensued in the defence of our land and dignity.
Brutality and callousness became the hallmark of land dispossession. Due to the brute force, natives were defeated even though they put up a spirited defence. The Bambatha Rebellion and other wars of resistance bear testimony to this historical fact.
Irrespective of being conquered, the natives never gave up. It is this that led to organisations like the South African Native National Congress, the ANC’s predecessor, being formed.
It was abundantly clear from the onset that the Struggle was, in the main, about land, not just casting a vote every five years. People knew that without land, they were to be turned into slaves in their own land.
The wars of resistance laid a firm foundation for struggles for the return of our land. Those struggles assumed various forms, including petitions to the British queen and other non-militant actions. When this approach didn’t produce the desired results, a more militant stance and posture, which included the defiance of apartheid colonial laws, was adopted.
When the struggles intensified and the apartheid colonial regime was forced by co-ordinated actions to realise the folly of its racist policies, negotiations ushered in a less-than-perfect political settlement.
The economy, including land, was inexplicably left in the hands of the white minority. This situation meant that natives continued to be lingering on the periphery of our country’s economy, with homelessness, poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, and economic injustice being their lot.
This conscious and continuing exclusion of the vast majority by the tiny white minority and the ubiquitous injustices associated with it are not sustainable. Even though this is good for whiteness as it continues to promote, preserve and propel white supremacy and privilege, it continues to plunge our country further into a colonial quagmire.
This is a ticking time bomb. Unless we re-imagine our country’s approach to land ownership, the consequences are too dire to contemplate.
In approaching and tackling this inexplicably outstanding and neglected question, we should not be superficial about it. The conversation should go deeper, to the roots of the problem if we are to begin to resolve it, especially given the countless false starts to land restitution and expropriation without compensation.
It is inexcusable that 28 years after a political settlement, the land question remains unresolved with the education system broken and our society’s moral fibre corroded.
The land is the economy, and the natives who are in majority (more than 80%) remain landless in their country while a tiny minority, less than 10% of the population, descendants of colonialists, are jealously and irrationally keeping a tight grip on this resource.
What further complicates the already complex landless situation is the stubbornness and callousness of the beneficiaries of land theft in our country.
We have an absurdity where those in possession of stolen property not only refuse to let go, but dare the victims of their crime to do their damndest if they so wish to get their property (land) back.
It is 28 years since the illusionary breakthrough, but the land question remains unresolved. While a battery of legislation, including the Restitution of Land Act, was enacted, less than satisfactory progress has been registered.
If it was not ineptitude or corruption, it is a lack of consistent and meaningful support to the beneficiaries of land restitution.
History is replete with instances of once-productive farms standing fallow because of both the government failing to provide requisite financial and other support, or the reluctance of financial institutions to fund restitution and land reform-linked projects.
It is heart-wrenching that beneficiaries of land restitution have also not covered themselves in glory. They have not assisted their cause and that of genuine decolonisation, with senseless infighting, selfishness and corruption rampant within these communities.
Most of these projects collapsed because of individuals within the beneficiary communities letting greed and criminality get the better of them.
This is a sad and self-defeating situation that needs to be attended to as it feeds into the colonial construct that natives cannot, and will not, farm.
Anyway, it is a historical fact that throughout history our forefathers owned and worked the land. They then conducted economic activities with their produce, and also fed their families. There was little or no poverty and hunger until colonisation changed that prosperity into deprivation and poverty.
While some argue that Section 25 of the Constitution allows for land reform and redistribution, it has become abundantly clear that those provisions do not go far enough to enable the swift return of land to its rightful owners as part of promoting food security and economic development and empowerment.
That section has conditions precedent in that it moves from a wrong premise of legitimising and legalising land theft.
The rainbow nation mirage has only served to further disenfranchise and humiliate natives. It is 28 years since the dream was deferred, and this spells disaster unless it is adequately and decisively attended to.
The charade that was the attempted amendment of Section 25 should not have happened if we had the will and the courage to right the apartheid colonial wrongs in order that natives get justice.
It has become extremely urgent that a conscious and genuine effort is embarked upon to restore our dignity.
This patriotic move will ensure that we avoid the unfortunate Zimbabwe experience of haphazard land grabs that ended up benefiting the elite and plunging that country into an economic mess, the colonialists’ manoeuvres notwithstanding.
The leadership ineptitude in resolving the Zimbabwean land question has also contributed to taking a country that was renowned for being a bread basket to a wasteland.
We have to learn from history if we are to be a prosperous nation and country. And the starting point is expropriating land without compensation as a token of atonement and reparations for apartheid colonial crimes.
With the half-hearted measures, including the failed attempt to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, subjecting the dichotomy of the natives, who are the vast majority remaining landless, while their land is in the hands of the tiny minority, to a referendum is the best option open to us.
Without land, natives will remain sojourners and economic scavengers in their own land. Hence, further obfuscation and continued dithering spell catastrophic disaster for our country.