Legacy of 1913 Land Act still with us - Helen Zille

WCape premier says act represented, and formed basis for, an attack on multiple rights and freedom of black South Africans

The speech below was delivered by Premier Helen Zille at a joint event of the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Government to commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Land Act and celebrate the finalisation of land claims in the Western Cape to date.

Restitution and redress mean restoration of dignity and building a foundation for reconciliation

Good afternoon, molweni, goeie dag.

Today is a very important and special occasion as we commemorate the centenary of the 1913 Land Act. We mark 100 years since that cruel piece of legislation which was the "original sin" of racial oppression.

This law reserved 87% of South Africa's land exclusively for white ownership, forming the basis of the later "Bantustan" policy and contributing majorly to the tragic consequences of dispossession and endemic poverty that we have in South Africa today.

The 1913 Land Act represented, and formed the foundation for, an attack on multiple rights and freedoms for black South Africans:

  •  the right to equality,
  •  the right to freedom and security of persons - because it enabled and indeed mandated the forced removals of the decades that followed,
  • freedom from servitude or forced labour - because it forced millions of people to abandon livelihoods of subsistence farming to become wage labourers on farms, in mines and in factories,
  • the right to freedom of movement and residence,
  • the right to freedom of trade and occupation - because it limited access to opportunities for people by virtue of their legally prescribed location,
  • freedom from arbitrary deprivation of property.

The truly demeaning nature of this law was made real in its brutal implementation: the uprooting of families, the shattering of communities and the destruction of livelihoods.

Many of the beneficiaries of land restitution processes who are here today have experienced that level of suffering and loss which the Act imposed on innocent people. It is a pain unimaginable those of us who have never had our homes and lives violated in that way.

The tragedy of South Africa is that public institutions which are meant to serve and help people instead acted to oppress and dispossess. A parliament that was meant to pass laws that expanded freedom and promoted justice instead used its power to trample on freedom and perpetuate injustice.

The police, who are meant to protect, inspire a sense of safety and be trusted by the public, instead used their power to terrorise people, inspire fear and fostered hatred and distrust towards them.

The 1913 Land Act not only deprived black South Africans of their rights and freedoms, it also deprived all South Africans of the benefits that could have been realised and shared if the full potential of all people and communities from all backgrounds had been released and harnessed.

The Act was conceived on the basis of a zero-sum outlook which saw the advancement of one group as dependent on the suppression of others. This is a dangerous line of thinking which we must always oppose when it is expressed by political leaders because it is an obstacle to reconciliation and shared prosperity.

Fortunately, whenever such laws and policies that attack freedom and destroy opportunity come into being, there are always people who are willing to stand up and raise their voices in opposition. It was the oppressive nature of the 1913 Land Act and its successors that compelled generations of anti-apartheid activists to join the struggle against oppression: activists like our very own Mayor De Lille.

Wherever injustice and oppression have reared their ugly heads, they have inspired resistance and protest to challenge it. Time and time again, history has shown that evil triggers a backlash from good. This is the story of such historical greats as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and South Africa's global icon, Nelson Mandela. Just yesterday we marked Youth Day on June 16 and remembered the uprising of young people as a backlash against the oppression they experienced.

The reason for this backlash from good against evil is not just because principles and values like freedom and justice are violated, but because human lives are deeply affected. The story of the ravages of the 1913 Land Act is the story of people who suffered and were dispossessed.

The legacy of the 1913 Land Act is still with us 100 years later and that legacy is the reason for the duty on the state to implement effective redress through land restitution. This will never remove or fully compensate for the pain suffered but it is a major step towards the restoration of dignity.

That is what we are here to celebrate today: the beginning of the restoration of dignity for beneficiaries of land claimants who have received restitution from the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government.

The City and the Province are deeply committed to playing their part in advancing redress through restitution where we have the power to play a meaningful role.

Our administration prioritised the finalisation of land claims on Province-owned land which had been lingering unfinished under the previous government. We understand that "justice delayed is justice denied".

We are very happy that all but one of the land claims on Province-owned land have been finalised and the one outstanding claim is on a clear path to resolution.

We believe it is absolutely critical that we fulfil our redress and reconciliation mandates as much as our delivery mandate. Effective delivery enables our society to own our future and it creates opportunities for active citizens to create the future of their design.

Redress however, enables us to honour the good in our past and to acknowledge the bad. Redressing the injustices of the 1913 Land Act means that the efforts of those who fought against apartheid, in various organisations and in different ways of protest and resistance, were not in vain.

We are very pleased to have played a part in restoring the dignity of claimants like the Flandorp family for their claim in Milnerton. The Kherekars who were restituted for land in Constantia and the Solomons family who were restituted for land in Sillery are all the human faces of the land restitution story that we are proud to have played a part in writing.

There can be challenges in implementing land restitution which is a complex policy area and it often requires a balancing of different interests. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and each case has to processed in its own context.

Whatever the difficulties encountered, our commitment to advancing redress has ensured that the Western Cape has achieved an excellent track record in the speed and quality of land claims finalised compared to other provinces.

As with our success in driving share equity schemes for land reform on farms, our province remains in the lead in ensuring real redress, restoring the dignity of those who had it robbed by the tyranny of apartheid and laying the groundwork for reconciliation that breaks down the barriers from our past.

We celebrate with all of you - 100 years after the original apartheid sin, we have built a foundation for a reconciled future.

Issued by the Office of the Western Cape Premier, June 17 2013

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