AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa’s deputy agriculture minister Pieter Mulder gave the hornet’s nest of land ownership a sharp political poke in the Country’s Parliament this week. He suggested that Black “Bantu-speaking” people had no historical claim to 40 percent of South African land.
“Africans in particular never in the past lived in the whole of South Africa,” he said during debate in South Africa’s National Assembly on last week’s State of the Nation address.
Mulder’s remarks provoked an angry buzz from ruling party benches, which rose in pitch when he then explained: “There is sufficient proof that there were no Bantu-speaking people in the Western Cape and north-western Cape.”
These areas formed 40 percent of South Africa’s land surface, he told MPs.
Mulder serves in President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet as deputy agriculture minister.
He was responding to the president’s statement in his address on Thursday, that the willing-buyer willing-seller option had “not been the best way to address” land redistribution.
Mulder said the question of land ownership was an emotional issue that had caused many wars.
In the South African context, Bantu-speaking people had moved down the continent from Africa’s equatorial regions, while Europeans had moved up from the Cape. They had met at the Kei River, in the present-day Eastern Cape.
“There are also differences of opinion about the influence of the Difaqane on land ownership. Read the diaries of the Voortrekkers about what they found when they moved into the interior,” he told MPs.
The Sotho word Difaqane – in Zulu, Mfecane – is the term used by historians for a period of internecine warfare involving various tribal groups in the interior of southern Africa during the early to middle 19th century.
Mulder took issue with land ownership figures cited by Zuma in his address.
“The president quotes in his address the department of rural development’s figures on land reform.
“According to these, white people possessed 87 percent of the land, and the government had reached only eight percent of its 30 percent (land reform) target. I seriously differ from these figures.
“How does the department calculate the eight percent? There isn’t a completed land audit against which we could correlate these facts.”
The Development Bank of South Africa calculated in 2001 that 44 percent of the country’s land belonged to whites, 20 percent to blacks, nine percent to coloured people and one percent to Asians.
“The way in which the department has calculated the 30 percent and eight percent figures creates the impression that they are setting themselves up to fail.”
Mulder said he seriously differed with the claim that white people had stolen land.
Referring to Zuma’s remarks on the willing-buyer willing-seller option, he said that, in plain language, this meant the government now believed in the nationalisation of agricultural land.
However, anyone who had dealt with land reform knew the problem was not with the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle.
“The problem is the disastrous way land reform is being applied. There are many letters on my desk from white commercial farmers, who have offered their land to the department and received no reply.”
There were also many letters from white commercial farmers who had concluded sales agreements with the department and gone bankrupt three years later because the department had not paid them out.
Mulder asked why the department of rural development did not buy farms in the Kalahari and Karoo.
“In the Karoo and Kalahari, huge farms are available. Why does the department not buy some of that land to reach their 30 percent quicker? These semi-desert lands are, however, added to the 87 percent propaganda percentage as white land.”
Mulder said he hoped there would come a time when both white and black commercial farmers did not have to look for opportunities elsewhere in Africa.
“I dream of white and black commercial farmers who do not have to go to Africa for opportunities. The children who were born in 1994 are 18 years old this year and can vote. They only know an ANC government,” he said.
“There is no reason why such a child should not be able to buy a farm or obtain a bursary, just because he or she is white. Yet this is still happening.”
Mulder’s speech proved too much for Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who, after he finished speaking, leapt to her feet and demanded to know whether it was parliamentary for a member “to blatantly distort history”.
Speaker Max Sisulu dismissed this, saying it was a point of information, not a point of order.