I voted yes for land ex­pro­pri­a­tion

Mail & Guardian - - Lifestyle - Zuk­iswa Wan­ner

In two weeks, I will be done with my four-month Jo­han­nes­burg In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Stud­ies Writ­ing Fel­low­ship, a part­ner­ship be­tween the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg and the Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity in Sin­ga­pore.

Since mov­ing to Nairobi in 2011, this is the long­est pe­riod of time that I have been home. Although see­ing fam­ily and friends more than I have re­cently been able to do was fun, per­haps the best part of be­ing here was in­ter­act­ing with fel­lows and those who came to present sem­i­nars. The mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary na­ture of the fel­low­ship en­sured that I now know a bit more about ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion in Sin­ga­pore (which has as­pects that put our ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme to shame): can­cers in Africa and their preven­tion and preva­lence; the his­tory of rugby; the his­tory of the mer­chant class of South African Indians; and mod­ern-day slav­ery in South Africa and else­where.

The sem­i­nar by Mbongiseni Buthelezi from the Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search In­sti­tute on land re­form in South Africa was en­light­en­ing. I learnt that, in 1994, 86% of land was white-owned. There had been an agree­ment that 30% would be trans­ferred at least by 1999 at a rate of 6% a year.

Un­for­tu­nately, by 1999, only 1.2% of that land had been trans­ferred. The sham­bles at the Deeds Of­fi­cere­sulted in many claims be­ing lost and gov­ern­ment in­com­pe­tence was cited as the ma­jor rea­son this did not hap­pen.

By 2010, the num­ber of land trans­ferred had risen to 16.7%. Our gov­ern­ment shifted the 30% tar­get to 2014 but, hav­ing failed to reach that tar­get in 2014, it has now been shifted to 2025.

In­for­ma­tion I knew, such as how tra­di­tional lead­ers con­stantly bat­tle with lo­cal gov­ern­ment over land issues, was con­firmed.

Yet again I won­dered why our demo­cratic gov­ern­ment saw fit to en­trench apartheid-era roles by hav­ing tra­di­tional lead­ers in a post-1994 dis­pen­sa­tion. This essen­tially means cit­i­zens liv­ing in places with tra­di­tional lead­ers may not have the same ac­cess to jus­tice and equal­ity as those in ur­ban ar­eas.

On the eve of the 1994 elec­tions, the last pres­i­dent of the apartheid gov­ern­ment, FW de Klerk, signed over land to the In­gonyama Trust. King Good­will Zwelithini is the sole trustee. What rights, then, do those liv­ing on land un­der the trust have over their an­ces­tral land?

And it goes beyond Kwazulu-Natal. In the plat­inum belt of North West, deals were done with min­ing com­pa­nies. In some in­stances, the only ben­e­fi­cia­ries are the chiefs, who be­came black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment part­ners.

And in ur­ban ar­eas, who can forget the measly R70 000 com­pen­sa­tion our gov­ern­ments paid to fam­i­lies that had been forcibly re­moved? This money had to be shared by all fam­ily mem­bers. As­sum­ing that a fam­ily con­sisted of four peo­ple, I would be cu­ri­ous to know where our gov­ern­ment, even as far back as 1994, would have found a house that dig­ni­fies peo­ple who were forcibly re­moved cost­ing R17 500?

It was to­wards the end of this pre­sen­ta­tion that the ques­tion of chang­ing sec­tion 25 of the Con­sti­tu­tion came up.

Some­one in the au­di­ence stated that they be­lieved this is­sue needed a quick res­o­lu­tion. Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, said the au­di­ence mem­ber, had, on Feb­ru­ary 27 this year, brought our coun­try un­told prob­lems by vot­ing for ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

This de­ci­sion has put the coun­try in limbo be­cause ex­ter­nal in­vestors would not come into the coun­try while there was un­cer­tainty about land.

I could not help be­ing amused be­cause it is al­ways those who are priv­i­leged who are wor­ried about in­vestors. I wished the au­di­ence mem­ber had shown as much em­pa­thy for his fel­low cit­i­zens who had lost their homes be­cause of the 1913 Land Act. I wished he had shown as much con­cern for those who were dis­placed be­cause of the Group Ar­eas Act.

Un­for­tu­nately, he is not alone in putting the rights of in­vestors over those of cit­i­zens. Many African po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing South Africa’s, have been known to be what one of my friends call izin­duna for the West or the East at the ex­pense of their fel­low cit­i­zens.

I sus­pect that MPs in the gov­ern­ing party only voted “yes” to the land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion pro­posal be­cause next year is an elec­tion year. What­ever their rea­sons, I for one de­cided to take ad­van­tage of the fact that they had said yes.

So last week, ex­er­cis­ing par­tic­i­pa­tory democ­racy on an is­sue that has both­ered me since I read Sol Plaatje’s Na­tive Life in South Africa, pub­lished in 1916, I voted yes for a review of sec­tion 25 of our Con­sti­tu­tion, which will make it pos­si­ble for the state to ex­pro­pri­ate land with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

I know it’s a small step and there are many steps to be taken be­fore ev­ery­thing is fi­nalised but I be­lieved it was im­por­tant for me to do it be­fore I leave home.

In my mind, this was not just for those who were re­moved from their homes in 1913, those who were rel­e­gated to the Ban­tus­tans or those who were re­moved from ur­ban ar­eas. In my mind, it was for all these peo­ple and those who still suf­fer the spa­tial apartheid in places such as in Diepsloot, Jo­han­nes­burg, where there is lit­tle room to breathe yet one man can have a large piece of land and claim it as his city.

I voted yes be­cause I am tired of the myth that is class and racial equal­ity in South Africa.

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