Freedom tied to land
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.