Will the proposed GNU deliver on the land question?


A significant protest by land rights activists went by without much fanfare in Polokwane on the night of June 18. While the eyes, ears and minds of South Africans were focused on the outcomes of the government of national unity talks, a group of activists staged a peaceful night vigil at the Limpopo premier’s offices. 

The protest, organised by the land rights organisation Nkuzi Development Association, was staged to mark a significant date in the history of our country – the passing of the Natives Land Act 27 of 1913, 111 years ago. 

The act relegated Africans to mere lodgers on their ancestral land, restricting their ownership of land to a mere 13% while whites, then referred to as Europeans, a badge they carried with pride and privilege, were allocated 87%. 

The Natives Land Act 27 of 1913 was one of many successive statutes enacted by white minority governments to dispossess Africans of their land from the 1700s right until the late 1980s. 

The protesters noted correctly that the Native Land Act 27 of 1913 “was the foundation of land dispossession, displacement and reduced black people into squatters and tenants…”. 

They went further to highlight a very disturbing reality, saying “in 1994, the new government promised to redistribute 30 % of land in 5 years. Today we are 30 [years] in democracy, but [not] much has happened towards transformation of land ownership, access and control”. 

In 2017 a Land Audit by the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform found that although Africans made up 79% of the population, they only had 1.2% of direct ownership of the country’s rural land. 

The audit painted a further disheartening picture, revealing that black South Africans owned just 7% of formally registered property in towns and cities. The majority of the land remained in the hands of whites who made up just 9% of the country’s population but directly owned 23.6% of the rural land and 11.4% of land in towns and cities. 

Last year, Thoko Didiza who was minister of agriculture, rural development and land reform, mentioned in her foreword of the 2022/23 annual report of the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights that during that financial year, “The commission settled 355 claims from 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023, which constitutes 8 681 households, of which 3 583 are female-headed households and 32 people with disabilities.” 

She mentioned that the state had paid financial compensation totalling more than R1-billion and land compensation totalling R2,7-billion to land claimants, which she claimed was an indication “that the restitution programme has met and continues to meet its objectives”. 

Taking into account that land ownership dynamics have hardly changed even under the supposed new post-1994 order, the fact that the government has spent billions of rands to try and resolve the land issue is hardly reason to celebrate. 

Land has always been the central point of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid. Warrior leaders such as Maqoma, Sekhukhune, Langalibalele, Hendrik Witbooi, Luka Jantjie, Makhado and many others took up arms against the British and Boers to fight for the land. 

They fought because they understood and knew that land is central to the wealth, heritage, culture and economy of a nation. They knew that he who controls the land, is in charge of the economy. 

In the run-up to the general elections in May, as has been the case in previous elections, politicians, some of whom own large tracts of farmland and numerous city properties, procured with taxpayers’ money, added the land issue to their election manifestos and campaign rallies. 

But this was not much of a genuine effort to address the issue. It was more a matter of appearing relevant, sounding “radical” and hyping up the emotions of desperate, land-hungry Africans. Once the elections were done and dusted, the people are left to continue the struggle on their own sans resources or political support. 

Judge Mbuyiseli Madlanga aptly captured the essence of the land question in his judgment in the Land Access Movement vs the National Council of Provinces and Others in 2016. He said: “This matter concerns the painful, emotive subject of colonial and apartheid era land dispossession…To those who personally experienced the forced removals and those who – instead of inheriting the illegitimately wrestled land – inherited the pain of loss of homes or property, the dispossessions are not merely colonial and apartheid era memories. They continue to be post-apartheid realities.” 

As the nation awaits the formation of the GNU, it remains to be seen whether at last, the question of land restitution and land reform will be elevated above the selfish needs of politicians.  

Research studies continue to rank SA as one of the most unequal societies in the world. What some of these studies fail to highlight is that land hunger remains at the centre of this gross inequality.  

Will the GNU finally deliver the land to the dispossessed? 

  • Ledwaba is news editor and the author of A Desire to Return to the Ruins [BlackBird Books-2022]

Visit SW YouTube Channel for our video content 

This article first appeared in Sunday World on 1 July 2024.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.customcontested.co.za/will-the-proposed-gnu-deliver-on-the-land-question/

Custom Contested