The simplicity behind South Africa’s complex land problem

Saturday July 21 2018

Members of the Landless Peoples’ Movement of South Africa

Dissatisfied. Members of the Landless Peoples’ Movement of South Africa demonstrate recently. NET PHOTO 

By Wangoola-Wangoola Ndawula

I read with keen interest a two-part analytical article by Chris Erasmus which appeared in the Daily Monitor publications of May 21 and May 22, titled: “South Africa’s land issue beyond political slogans”; and “South Africa’s land issue far too complex”. It was a well-written piece in defense of the entrenchment of apartheid, after the promise of land justice in the run-up to the one man/woman – one vote general election of 1994, in which Nelson Mandela became State President of South Africa, yielded nothing.

Chris Erasmus seems to contend that of all the land problems European imperialism created everywhere it went after 1492 (North America, South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, Kenya, etc.), the land question in South Africa is probably the most “complex”. The willing seller-willing buyer policy adopted by the ANC under Nelson Mandela to transfer land from whites to black was virtually still-born; and has not achieved any meaningful land transfer – and yet a) the injustice of apartheid was constructed around land injustice; and b) land injustice was at the core and the driver of the struggle against white supremacism in South Africa. Without land justice therefore, it is not yet Uhuru for South Africa.

Arguments for and against reform
In the inevitable ensuing intense struggle and debate, the two sides, the beneficiaries of apartheid and its victims, each with their respective allies, have gone back to the depths of their history and experience in search of all manner of reasons, justification and excuses to assist with either the continued enjoyment of the rights and privileges of apartheid, or restitution; that is the correction of historical injustice.
An energetic section of African black people seem to have found clarity, power and energy in the articulation and politics around the ideas of “ownership by ancestral right”; and “ownership by right of the indigenous”.

It seems that the mobilisation potential around these ideas can be so emotively powerful, particularly among the aggrieved millions of landless Africans, that Chris Erasmus, as ideologue of the beneficiaries of apartheid, argues that if nothing continues to be done on the land question, “populist sloganeering will grow, and with it, the threat of a bloody racial war”.

His own contribution to avert war is by appealing to “reason”, backed up by what he calls facts and reality. He dexterously juggles around assumptions behind established common sense ideas and concepts, so as to question the real meaning, with the view to destabilise confidence and sense of certainty in the minds of ordinary people, and consequently reign in mass action which could otherwise ensue. For example, who is “black” or “white” or “Zulu” or “African”? Do such people as “black”, or “white” or “Zulu” or “African” exist in reality, or are all these the figment of populist imagination? The idea is to remove the sting of colour and nationality out of the South African land question, and pave the way for bland ways of looking at land ownership, land rights and land justice.

Instead of focusing on ownership Chris Erasmus suggests the classification of land by use and by gender. By the time an ordinary reader completes reading his well-written piece, I bet they are left wondering whether, as a matter of fact, whites in South Africa have taken any more land than is legitimately due to them? And to this end, he makes the following key statements in respect of who actually owns land in South Africa, and by what right?

Who is indigenous and who is not?
To argue that all land in South Africa belongs to its “indigenous” inhabitants is not logical, because if by “indigenous” we mean only people whose ancestors, since the dawn of time and humanity, lived in South Africa, then all 57 million of its current inhabitants must leave, handing over the entire country to some 300 Khoi San Bushmen”.
Throughout history, even before white people came to South Africa, one group of people has time and again displaced another group of people from land which was theirs by ancestral right. Sometime, the displaced have died out completely.
Of all the land in South Africa, 79 per cent is privately-owned; 14 per cent is directly owned by the state; 12.5 per cent is managed by the state.

Chris Erasmus also breaks down land by usage; by land whose records on use or titles are not available or are lost, etc. There is difficulty in determining, for example, who is Zulu; is it just by language or by culture?
The Caucasian white people have been living in South Africa for up to 400 years. Surely this is long enough for them to be indigenous to the land of South Africa!
Chris Erasmus sums up in his trademark fashion of having his cake and eating it at the same time:

There is undeniable truth of widespread historical land dispossession on racial grounds by successive white governments… However, land is not merely a single sticky issue – it represents a complex of issues, sometimes clear but mostly, not, and virtually impossible to untangle without fall out so severe as to threaten the well-being of all, including and especially the land repossessed.
The adoption by the ANC of the policy of land expropriation without compensation, and having that notion supported beyond the two-thirds majority needed in Parliament to change the SA Constitution to allow this is unsettling.
Chris Erasmus seems to argue that the South African land question is so big, so complex and fraught with such danger that the best action is that of numbing everyone into inaction, because any substantive change to land ownership is bound to be disastrous to all, particularly the victims of apartheid.

We beg to differ, and this is our point of departure. Behind every complexity there is simplicity; much the same way as behind every simplicity, there is complexity. Therefore, when by route of complexity you fail to understand a substantive phenomenon fraught with danger and requires a substantive solution for lasting peace, try by route of simplicity. In any case, the world over, complexity is usually the weapon of the oppressor; and in such situations, the oppressed confront the oppressor’s complex and complicated narrative with a simple one, with built-in energy and appetite for clear-cut, decisive action. Hereunder we propose a simple narrative in respect of the South African land question, as well as in respect of similar land questions elsewhere in the world. The bottom-line is to give some meaningful voice to sections of the South African population who have been denied voice and visibility in the reconstruction of post-apartheid South Africa.

The Simplicity Behind South Africa’s “Complex” Land Question
Diversity is at the core of being and vitality of life, in the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as among human society. For example, we cannot claim to understand the world or to plan for its wellness while denying the existence and rights of lands, countries, nations, nationalities, cultures and peoples. Human experience teaches that to survive people need to build manageable all-round and deep bonds of mutuality around particular place and space, over time. For this reason people tell stories; which stories, over time, define them, such that each one of us as Europeans, Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, etc. are a story, the story we tell which, moreover, explains and justifies our worldview and our actions.

For that reason, therefore, when the cluster of Europeans (in their differentiations as Irish, Welsh, Scots, English, Germans, French, etc.) are locked in war with Africans (in their differentiations as Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Yoruba, Fulani, Mende, etc.), you will not be able to fully understand the issues at hand until you have understood the stories that inform the actions of the parties involved. In a real way therefore, war between whites and blacks in South Africa is the combat between two stories, two peoples and two lands. The challenge and opportunity for Chris Erasmus and others of a feather who have written about the South African land question is to unveil the stories, around the land of South Africa, of the protagonists.

As an African from the oppressed Kingdom of Busoga at the Source of the Nile in Uganda I feel duty-bound to share a key part of the African story as told at the Source of the Nile in the Central African Great Lakes Region, an area which straddles territories which today go by the names of Ethiopia, Sudan, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Several reasons can be advanced in support of why an authentic story from this region is likely to be a key part of the African Mega Story, in the illumination of land rights and land justice.

To each their own
When it comes to lands, countries, nations and peoples there is probably no better place to start than the beginning; moreover, at zero ground, the Cradle of Humanity.
In the beginning God created the first man and woman as the first set of twins, at the Source of the Nile; and created them black. The first twins multiplied into the primer and premier community who in time multiplied to populate the entire earth. The various colours of people which later emerged around the world emphasized the genetic dynamism, as well as the full-spectrum rainbow beauty locked in the primer community out of whom all emerged.

For thousands of years African black people were the only people on earth; and after having peopled the earth it was time for the Creator to gift the various peoples and nations with land and countries. An essential part of the African story at the Source of the Nile is that after all lands had been peopled and, in anticipation of the filling of the earth, God gifted out land and land titles: Africa to Africans; Europe to Europeans; Asia to Asians; the Middle East to Arabs and associated peoples; North and South America to the First Nations; Australia and New Zealand to the Aborigines and the Maori; etc., etc. It was a land-gifting which went with duties and responsibility towards the gift; namely: gratitude and satisfaction, adorant stewardship, love and respect of Mother Earth, living within the means of God’s gift; as well as the respect of God’s gift to all others.

The South African land question is not an isolated or localised case, but part and parcel of a global phenomenon whose seeds were sown in 1492 when fortune-seeking Christopher Columbus, as an emissary of Europe’s aristocracy and ruling classes, stumbled on the Caribbean islands, and thus opened the way for Europe’s discovery of a New World of stunning beauty and fabulous exotic, vast wealth. The seeds of the current global land question were as well planted by Vasco da Gama when during the late 1490s he sailed round the African Cape, and thus opened the curtain for Europe to view and gaze at the vast wealth of Asia, including China, Australia and New Zealand. The operative date for South Africa was 1652 when a band of Dutch-Europeans led by Van Riebeck settled at the Cape in South Africa.

Quite clearly tiny Europe was mesmerised by the world’s vast, and at the time seemingly inexhaustible wealth. Tiny Europe’s ruling class profusedly salivated at the world’s wealth and treasures. The historical moment of Europe coming face-to-face with the world’s broad-spectrum beauty of flora and fauna, of people, culture and wealth was a moment of vast opportunity and deep temptation. Instead of seizing on the opportunity to establish peaceful relations of cooperation with the Natives and owners of the foreign lands and wealth, the ruling classes of Europe succumbed to the temptation of competition and rivalry with the Natives; instead of seeking friendship with and the hospitality of the Natives, they chose precedence, hegemony and entitlement; instead of peace they succumbed to war, conquest, occupation and genocide. Instead of good stewardship of the land, they chose stripping the land; and because Europeans became a global force with global presence, they actually chose to strip Mother Earth.

So it was that some four-five hundred years ago the Nations and tribes of Europe were laying the foundations of a war machine by which they would deploy themselves around the world; in Africa, North and South America, in the Caribbean, Asia, Australia and New Zealand; etc. It was not deployment by migration; it was deployment by war, conquest, occupation, genocide and colonialism, mostly on innocent and unsuspecting countries, nations and peoples. Five hundred years later, Europe still holds on its empire by the same methods it acquired it: broad-spectrum war, including biological warfare, total domination and domineering.

South Africa: Simplified Solutions To A Complex Land Question
The simplified solution to the South African land question starts with the simple truth that some five hundred years ago the land question around the world was localised. Thereafter, the land question was increasingly globalised and made acute because of the imperial designs of Europe, by which she was determined to arrogate to herself the entire earth, by any means necessary. Indeed at the height of her imperial expansion Britain routinely boasted of “an empire where the sun never set”.

A huge global land question was created by the fact that on a massive global scale, by force and cunning Europe annexed lands, countries and territories they knew were not theirs by any right, other than the rogue right of might. The problem created was particularly vexing because the land stolen and robbed was not out of Europe’s survival needs, but to satisfy Europe’s insatiable greed. It was a phenomenon against the order of nature; because while Mother Earth may be able to cater for each and everyone’s need, it does not have enough for everyone’s greed; not even the greed of a few!

Europe built her empire out of acts of lawlessness, indiscipline and crime in North and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand – everywhere! Today, it is not possible to solve the land question in South Africa or North America or Australia or New Zealand or the Middle East, etc. until and unless the toxic order of the super rogue burden of land rights by invasion and occupation, colonialism and genocide has been removed. The reward of acts of war against humanity, war crime and genocide with sanitized rights is a bloat on the conscience of humanity which must come to an end.

The antidote to the South African land question is to go a little back in history, some four to five hundred years. At that time Europeans and Africans had a homeland, Europe and Africa, to which each had and respectively continues to have land rights, both ancestral and by right of the indigenous. It is, therefore, logical to contend that South Africa belongs to its “indigenous” inhabitants, the same way Europe belongs to its “indigenous” inhabitants. However, belonging to the indigenous does not mean that there is no room for the others. There is plenty of room for the non-indigenous on invitation and when welcome by the indigenous.

Having lived in South Africa for four hundred years cannot make you indigenous, because you do not become indigenous by invasion, occupation and genocide. Moreover, Europeans cannot possibly have multiple indignities; indigenous to North America, South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, China, the Middle East, Africa; indigenous to everywhere! Furthermore, to say that South Africa belongs to its indigenous inhabitants does not mean that the rest should leave; rather it means a paradigm shift to pave the way for peaceful relations among the indigenous, as well as between the indigenous and the rest.

It is a paradigm shift which would save the white population and their allies from living a life of sinful luxury on the blood of millions of the indigenous, generation after generation, while contemporary generations pretend that they are not the ones who instituted apartheid, it was their fore-fathers and fore-mothers, yet they continue to fight tooth and nail to maintain and enjoy the benefits of apartheid, much the same way their ancestors did.

Finally, a paradigm shift to end apartheid does not threaten racial war; on the contrary it seeks to bring to an end a four-hundred-year racial bloodbath – for save by racist war, how else can some 5,000 European/white farmers, some 0.03 per cent of the total population, own 71 per cent of the land in Zimbabwe? How else do Europeans own and hold onto Canada, the United States, Australia or New Zealand? And how else do African Black peoples of South Africa end up with a paltry 3 per cent of their land?

Wangoola-Wangoola Ndawula is Nabyama of Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity; and Convenor of Ekyoto-ky’Abataka (Elders’ Fire of Wisdom), an Afrikan Black Think Tank at the Source of the Nile, Jinja