The great land grab cover up: how the government is helping chiefs and mining companies to steal your land

You’re sitting at home, minding your own business, reading the news on your phone. If you are part of an unfortunate 30% of the population, you could, at any time, get a letter slipped under your door telling you that your property has been expropriated, with no compensation.

Do you smile and say: “The revolution has started! The landlords have had their day!”

Or do you shake your head and think: “That won’t happen! Expropriation is bad for the economy! What will the markets do! The government benefits too much from business, they’ll never do it.”

But hang on a second. What 30% are we talking about? We’re talking about the 17 million people living in communal areas, who could be subject to a land grab at any time.

In fact, if you are part of this 30%, sorry to say, you probably won’t even get shown the respect of a letter. One day, you’ll be walking to your field where you’re growing some mealies which you’ll take to the mill to grind your own maize meal to feed the family this year, and some pumpkin and beans for relish, and maybe a little to sell too. But you don’t get to your field. Someone has put up a fence and your field is on the other side of the fence.

You will never walk on that field again, and in a few years it will be covered by mine dumps. You get no compensation, because the mine says they already paid the chief, and the chief says he is the owner of the land. Yes, that field, the one that your great grandparents cleared a hundred years ago. The one you inherited.

Or maybe you decide you want to get the new Nokia 5 and at the shop they ask you for your proof of address for FICA. You don’t have proof of address – you live in a house you inherited from your parents, who inherited it from your grandparents. You don’t have a lease, you don’t have a municipal rates and taxes account. And whatever piece of paper your parents once had is long lost. So you go to the Traditional Authority office to get a proof of address, and you’re given a form to sign. This is a lease agreement. It tells you that you now need to pay rental on your own property, and if you don’t, you’ll be evicted! You have just had your land grabbed!

This could happen to you… if you live on communal land.

How does it happen? It happens because chiefs pretend that they own the land. They pretend to you, and tell you that you’re just tenants, or that you only have user rights, and they threaten you with force or eviction if you stand up to them. It happens because they are the mining companies who think this is great, because then they just have one person to pay compensation to, and not a thousand. They just need the approval of one person who speaks “on behalf of the community” to sign a surface lease agreement, and not the hundreds of community members who actually have a vested interest in the land.

The government, meanwhile, is doing everything it can to help them steal your land. First, there was the Communal Land Rights Act which was struck down for being unconstitutional. Now there are the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act, the Ingonyama Trust Act, the Communal Land Tenure Bill and the Traditional Courts Bill. These are used to turn you into the kind of right-less “subjects” that even the apartheid government could not succeed achieve.

They use the idea of “custom” to back them up. But they’re simply trying to pull the wool over your eyes. This is not custom. This is an aberration of custom. The African land tenure system is respectful of the property rights of families, who are the bedrock of the community and the nation. If a family cannot be secure in their land, if they can’t produce and look after themselves and others, then how can a community – or a nation – survive? Custom is about dignity and respecting the work that you have put into your land, and those who are buried there. It is about respecting the ancestors who first cut the bushes and tamed the wilderness. Customary land tenure is akin to ownership by each family. Each individual has the right to secure access to land.

Maybe you know this. Maybe they know that you know this. Instead, they’re in cahoots with other powerful people to maintain that pretense, even though they know you know better. They’re ganging up on you. They’re treating you as though you are second-class citizens. They think that they can do that because they don’t think you can, or will, do anything about it.

The High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and Acceleration of Fundamental Change headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe made recommendations in a report handed to Parliament on 21 November to enhance the land rights of all people who are currently in communal areas and in other circumstances in which their tenure is insecure.

The Panel proposes that the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Act (IPILRA) “be urgently amended and properly enforced, and also that other laws that have been interpreted to enable land grabs, such as the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and Ingonyama Trust Act, be explicitly made subject to IPILRA and amended in other ways as well”.

They also call for a new land framework law “that would focus on the right to equitable access to land,” and a new Land Records Act “to support an inclusive and robust land administration system that caters for all South Africans across a full spectrum of coexisting land rights: As long as the majority of South Africans have no recorded land rights, they remain vulnerable to eviction”.

Remember this: chiefs do not own the land and they have no right to evict you or take your land without your consent, and without adequate compensation reached through respectful negotiations. They cannot sell it or lease it without the agreement of everyone who could be affected by that decision. Call on the ANC to stop enabling land grabs which disrespect and harm the people they promised to protect, and who voted them into power.

A chief is a chief by the people. They are meant to look after the community’s interests, not their own.

This article was first published in The Witness on 22 December, 2017



Permanent link to this article:

Custom Contested