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South Africa, going Zimbabwe’s way

By Owei Lakemfa
SOUTH Africa has again postponed the target date of its land reform programme.  In its post apartheid election manifesto, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) had promised to redistribute 30 percent of agricultural land in its first five years in office. But by 2001, some seven years later, less than two per cent had been distributed.
A new date of 2014 was fixed, today less than five years to the new date, ownership remains almost like it was during apartheid; 14 percent of the populace owns 85 per cent of the land.

The Jacob Zuma government needs an initial 17 billion Rands to pay some White farmers for lands. But no such money is available. With White farmers charging exorbitant amounts for the farms, the government abandoned the willing-buyer, willing-seller policy.  It decided to offer farmers purchase based on independent valuation which they are expected to accept within six months or face possible expropriation.

Despite this, the reality is that no appreciable progress is being made so the government is forced to postpone its 2014 target date.  But this may yet lead to protests by the landless and their groups such as the Landless Peoples Movement (LPM) which had once threatened to launch a campaign to take the lands unless the reform programme is accelerated.

A major reason for the anti- apartheid struggle was land.  It was a major issue in the talks that led to the birth of the new rainbow nation of South Africa.

During the negotiations for majority rule, the willing-buyer, willing-seller clause was agreed which theoretically assumed that there would be funds to purchase the land and that the White farm owners in the spirit of reconciliation would willingly sell their lands at reasonable prices.  But both assumptions have been proven wrong.

The funds are not readily available while the White farmers have tried to truncate the process by charging exorbitant prices.

The lands in question were originally stolen from the Black populace.  The Afrikaners had the belief that they were God’s chosen race to inherit the promised land of South Africa, a land flowing with milk and honey.

They organised a Great Trek from the Cape northwards to the central, northern and eastern parts of South Africa where they conquered the Africans, maimed and massacred them before taking their lands.

It is those stolen lands that their inheritors insist on selling today to the South African government at ridiculous prices.
After the 1899 – 1902 Anglo-Boer War, both sides decided to unite against the black populace and size the entire country.  On May 31, 1910 the British and the Boers announced the establishment of the Union of South Africa.

Three years later, they imposed the Natives Land Act (1913) which set seven per cent of the total land surface to the African people while they reserved the rest for themselves.  In the process, 87 percent of the country’s lands were seized by the White minority which turned the blacks into squatters on their ancestral lands.

So for the landless, the rural poor and most South Africans, the re-possession of their ancestral homes was the primary purpose of the liberation struggle not the ballot box.  To them, democracy meant the justice of regaining their ancestral lands.  That to them, was also what reconciliation meant.  The struggle was not to see Black faces replace white faces in Pretoria.

Now the economic and legal approach to land reforms and redistribution does not appear to be feasible.  Therefore, if there is to be genuine and reasonable land reforms, a political option must be sought.

One such example which continues to crop up is the Zimbabwean example.  In 1890, the racist and greedy Briton, Cecil Rhodes, raised a mercenary force of 500 with which he attacked Zimbabwe.  Each mercenary was promised 3,000 acres of conquered Zimbabwean land.

In 1930, the Land Apportionment Act was enacted confining the Black majority who make up 96 percent of the populace to about half the land mass.  That meant that the four percent settler Whites were given over 50 per cent of the land.

At the Lancaster House Talks which led to Zimbabwe’s April 18, 1980 independence, it was agreed to adopt the willing buyer, willing seller approach with Britain promising to provide the bulk of the funds for the purchase.  But Britain did not fulfill its promise and the Zimbabwean government did not have the necessary funds.

The government was supposed to resettle 162,000 families or 750,000 Zimbabweans on nine million hectares of land within three years from 1982.

But by 1989 only 40,000 families had been resettled.  The Zimbabwean government under Robert Mugabe decided to allow war veterans seize some of the lands by force.

There is a myth that Zimbabwe had economic and political problems as the direct consequence of the seizures.  In a sense yes, but the problems were essentially imposed by Britain and its allies who isolated the country, denied her needed spare parts and credit, and generally put pressure on companies not to do business with Zimbabwe.

If land seizures were to occur in South Africa, it remains to be seen whether the west and America can squeeze it like they did Zimbabwe, or raise puppets as political opposition.

There is also the example of Kenya where after the British White settlers seized the arable lands of the Kikuyu, they resettled some of them in the Rift Valley on lands mainly belonging to the Kalenjin and Massai.  But when presidential elections were deadlocked between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, the violence took ethnic dimensions based on the unresolved colonial land distribution problem.

South  Africa can seek a midway between the Zimbabwean and Kenyan examples.  It can squeeze the Whites so they can become willing sellers at vastly discounted rates.

It can place high taxation on the lands enough to make them unattractive for the whites to hold on to. There are no easy options, but inaction is not a viable option.


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