It is critical we resolve the land question

Mugabe Ratshikuni says land reform, using EWC, will not be carried out in a haphazard way

Land Expropriation without Compensation Critical to Addressing the Land Issue in South Africa

In the introduction to Cedric Nunn’s, Unsettled: One hundred Years War of Resistance by Xhosa against Boer and British, renowned South Africa author and intellectual Zakes Mda makes the following poignant observation about the historic relationship that the African people have always had with the land which they lived in and what it means to them, “these landscapes are storage places of memory. Embedded in these rocks, these dongas, these trees, these hills, these rivers, these valleys, these ruins, these monuments, these cities, these cairns are generations of narratives that continue to haunt the present.”

The question of land dispossession and land reform has been one that has not been adequately addressed in the post 1994 dispensation and the recent huge uproar concerning the ANCs decision at its 54th national conference to push for a policy of land expropriation without compensation, a position which parliament has also adopted, has highlighted the fact that the land issue is one that is highly emotive for people on all sides of the divide.

As Zakes Mda so aptly puts it, for the African people who were dispossessed unjustly of their land by the colonialists, the land issue is a deeply held scar that needs to be addressed with urgency because land for them is deeply ingrained into their identity, their sense of being and worth, their social and economic organisation.

That is why it is critical that we resolve the land question, if we want to succeed in our nation-building objectives. Historically, the forced removals and dispossession of land from Africans, has left them impoverished and disempowered, with the effects of that dastardly act still being felt in present day South Africa.

As the ANC-led government, we want to use the agricultural sector, with its forward and backward linkages to drive modernisation, industrialisation, transformation, job creation, food security, economic inclusion and equality.

This means that our posture to expropriate land without compensation in order to redress the injustices of the past is a necessary act, in the process of building a more just, equitable and inclusive society. Of course, this expropriation will be done in a manner that is constitutional and that will allow us to ensure that there is sufficient land for social and economic development, to effect radical and spatial transformation to redress past injustices.

Our land reform programme will not just be haphazard, and as we expropriate without compensation we will ensure that we adhere to the principles of: increased security of tenure, land redistribution and land restitution. Our focus will primarily be on vacant land, unused and underutilised land as well as land held for speculation and hopelessly indebted land.

So our approach to land expropriation without compensation will not be a helter-skelter, scatter-gunned approach. We will apply constitutional principles and be sure to promote the public benefit (not just that of an elite few) in how we roll out the land reform programme. The final aim will be to vest the land of our country as the common property of the people of South Africa as a whole for their communal benefit.

This means that markets, investors, farmers and all other relevant stakeholders need not be afraid of land expropriation without compensation. A more inclusive economy, with ownership of land and other assets more equitably spread out can only be to the benefit of the economy and the country as a whole going forward.

Right at the heart of our economic transformation and economic justice agenda, is this critical land reform programme. Let us reverse the apartheid and colonial legacy of forced removals (in urban areas but also from ancestral lands in rural areas which were unjustly allocated to white farmers and white owners).

Let us reverse the legacy of alienation from their land that black people felt, when the migrant labour system forced them to leave their rural land and go into the cities to sell their labour for the sake of upholding an unjust economic system. Let us support land expropriation without compensation as an existential necessity for the growth, development and safeguarding of our young, dynamic, vibrant and maturing democracy.

It is only in getting behind such a progressive land reform programme that we will be able to defeat the phenomenon of black disempowerment and marginalisation that Sol Plaatje so profoundly describes in his editorial to the Bechuana Gazette in 1902, “I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar and the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me because I am black for the sun hath looked upon me; my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of their vineyards; but my own vineyards have I not kept.” It is only by giving our people back the land that we will be able to ensure that they become “keepers of their own vineyards” as opposed to that of others.

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government. He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.