Business Day

Freedom tied to land

- Tshepo Diale Nkwe Estate

DEAR SIR — As we commemorat­e the life of Chris Hani and celebrate Freedom Day, we should reflect on what that commemorat­ion and celebratio­n mean. Property ownership is the vehicle of freedom. Without ownership of property, we are all made into tenants of the government. The right to procure property and to use it for one’s own enjoyment is essential to the freedom of every person.

The discussion of the Land Act of 1913 provides an opportunit­y to reflect on its legacies in the present. It provides an opportunit­y to reflect on the multiple meanings and implicatio­ns of the act in constructi­ng a society based on inequality and dispossess­ion. The centenary of the Land Act occurs 18 years after the constituti­on was enacted. While the function of the constituti­on in any society is broader than redressing past injustices, there can be no question that such redress is central in laying foundation­s for a society based on justice, freedom and equality in all meanings. There is general acceptance that SA’s land reform and redress has been frustratin­gly low.

This is acknowledg­ed by the leaders of the country as it is equally experience­d by the communitie­s who live with the legacy of that dispossess­ion.

The land question has always been critical in SA. Tension over land began in the colonial era, particular­ly as the Voortrekke­rs moved inland, displacing indigenous Africans as they went.

Land became an even more central issue during apartheid, when land was used by the repressive regime as a means of economic and social oppression of the African majority.

Historical­ly, white settlers in SA appropriat­ed more than 90% of land under the 1913 Natives Land Act, while confining the indigenous people to reserves in the remaining marginal portions of land. This process forced a large number of rural residents to leave the rural areas for urban areas and farms in search of work, resulting in a significan­t number of rural people becoming fully proletaria­nised, while others became migrant workers with a tenuous link to land.

The call to address land dispossess­ion resonated across the country as people envisioned the future SA. In the Freedom Charter, the land clause sits with others, which address common citizenshi­p, equality and justice, as well as recognitio­n of the importance to build a common SA in which all people shall be free.

Section 25 of the constituti­on seeks to strike a balance between competing interests, the historical injustice of dispossess­ion and the reality of the redress and importance in the postaparth­eid dispensati­on.

The centenary of the Land Act occurs at a time when the majority of South Africans who live in rural communitie­s are forced to contemplat­e a life without security of tenure or citizenshi­p, as guaranteed by the constituti­on.

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