The land question in South Africa has spun around the significant imbalances in access to and rights over land between the rightful owners that is the black majority and the white minority settlers.
The underlying foundations of this disparity are ordinarily followed back to the proclamation of the Natives Land Act in June 1913, which gave the lawful structure to the resulting division of the nation into a generally prosperous white hub and a cluster of increasingly disadvantaged black reserves on the periphery. Albeit South Africa was majority black, the white minority passed a series of inhumane and racially discriminating land acts that brought about them possessing over 90 percent of the country’s land. These unlawful acts stripped black South Africans of their heritage.
The 1913 Land Act informally propelled politically-sanctioned racial segregation by requiring the black populace to live on Bantu reserves and later forced removal into the already over-crowded Bantustans especially between the period of 1960 and 1980.
These racial inequalities prompted the emergence of a series of protests and the founding of political organisations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and The Pan Africanist Congress of the People of Azania (PAC).
The ANC freedom charter clearly set out that the land shall be shared equally among those who work it, “Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger. All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.”
Robert Sobukwe sufficed that, “land is the core and primary contradiction over which the liberation struggle was waged in this country.”
As Frantz Fanon aptly put it, ‘for a colonial people the most important essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all dignity’. Land remains the most contested issue in South Africa, as it is in most post-colonial and post-apartheid societies.
It is uncontested that land was simply stolen from its owners throughout the century before independence. Redistribution would reverse this process and return the land to the dispossessed. Additionally, the racial basis of land inequality needs to be specifically acknowledged. Redistribution is justified at least in part through the need to redress racial imbalance in land ownership for a number of reasons not least among them being that the political instability is inevitable when the subordination of Africans is perpetuated by the inactivity, through collusion or impotence, of an essentially African government.
The eradication of this nexus of privilege and humiliation is essential to the re-establishment of confidence among a demoralised black population.
The Constitution includes clauses that are to be pivotal in the process of transforming the land ownership structure in the country.
These clauses state:
A person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to restitution of that property or to equitable redress.
The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.
However, it seems that the post-1994 land reform processes in South Africa were influenced by a multitude of policy options, understandably informed by multiple objectives, and not a clear policy direction aimed at addressing the legacy of apartheid colonialism.
It is important that a land reform programme is informed by clear policy.
The necessary amendments must be done with immediate effect because failure to do so, forced expropriation will become necessary. Moreover, in order to enable forced expropriations, an amendment to the Constitution will be required, and it remains to be seen whether the current regime will choose to change the constitutionally protected property clause-a clause that was central to the negotiations that lead to the current political dispensation.
Now is the time to redress the legacy of apartheid colonialism by expropriating land without compensation. Now is the time to restore the glory of the black masses.
Any form of compromise is unacceptable. The land is ours.