AFRICANGLOBE – South African President Jacob Zuma recently signed the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill into law in a landmark move that is set to empower the government to reclaim African land from White settlers for distribution to their rightful owners. The law is also a test case for the South African government’s resolve in finally fulfilling one of the contentious and emotive issues that inspired the anti-apartheid movement.
The effect of the law is that it re- opens the restitution claims process that closed at the end of 1998 and gives the claimants five years to lodge land claims.
Only 80,000 land restitution claims were lodged in 1998 and it is estimated that there are up to five times as many valid cases that are to be brought by victims of apartheid’s forced removals.
Predictably, the bulk of the South African Press relegated the land Bill story to inside pages with no more than five paragraphs and without any background information.
The indifferent reportage by the media is not without basis as most of them are owned by Whites who also happen to be the target of the land reclamation exercise.
It is the same Whites who feel insecure about the economic trajectory the victorious ANC is pursuing to appease its restless supporters.
The anxieties and insecurity of the White populace in South African is aptly captured by one Laura Oneal. In an article titled “Land Reform and Redistribution in South Africa” Oneal argues that “land reform projects have failed and to call for an expedited change would create a political disaster for the ANC government.”
There is always the temptation by racist White analysts to threaten the SA government by comparing it with Zimbabwe and always tainting the latter’s fast track land reform programme as a disaster despite the prevalence of studies painting a clearly contrary view.
But the ANC is not without blemish.
Since 1994 the ANC government has always been hesitant to embark on a serious land reform programme for fear of scaring away international capital. But 20 years on, the temperature is clearly rising as general South Africans begin to question the whole essence of the liberation movement, its ideals, aspirations and objectives.
Indeed, one of the areas that the ANC needs to address is the skewed nature of land legislation which favours the land owners. Zimbabwe realised the folly of embarking on land reform without the relevant legislation and swiftly enacted laws not just to smoothen the exercise but to protect the new farmers.
It must be noted that land reform in South Africa started way back soon after the country gained majority rule and its main thrust was to change the inequities of the apartheid era law, which stated that Africans were not permitted to own their own land.
When the late Nelson Mandela assumed office as the first African president, the issue of land was included in the constitution.
However, it emphasised that there would be no arbitrary expropriation of land and that land would be distributed on a willing buyer-willing seller basis. Just like in Zimbabwe, the willing buyer-willing seller was problematic in that White landowners constantly inflated the value of the land to unsustainable levels.
The ANC government also set up the Restitution of Land Rights Act and the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) meant to address issues of land reform and compensate those with legitimate claims of land having been stolen during apartheid.
Again, the poorly advertised restitution had little success as the deadline for the submission of claims lapsed with very few people having successfully lodged their claims.
In reality, the efforts by the ANC government in addressing the land issue were less revolutionary and to a greater extent the leadership was in no rush to upset the economic apple cart that had clearly made many of them rich.
Until the signing of the Bill by President Zuma into law, a number of impediments slowed down the land redistribution exercise. One of the major impediments was the lack of relevant legislation that empowered government to expropriate land for redistribution and the focus on the willing buyer-willing seller approach.
Sadly, the 30 percent of the 90 percent earmarked for distribution to Africans never really materialised as only 10 percent was redistributed and 90 percent of the farms distributed failed due to lack of funding. The unwillingness to relinquish ill-gotten wealth also hindered any efforts to correct historical injustices.
It is hoped that the new law will in some way wade off growing volatility and anger among South African youths who make up 77 percent of the population and 70 percent of the unemployed.
Although individuals like Julius Malema are sceptical of the ANC’s recent move preferring the Zimbabwean model of expropriation without compensation, President Zuma and his government must be commended for re-opening the restitution exercise.
Many argue that South Africans need jobs not land. This is fallacious given the avalanche of applications for restitution. Yes, they need jobs but they also realise that most Palestinians have jobs but are still fighting for their homeland. It is the same in South Africa.
In 20 years, they will have jobs but will soon realise that they don’t have a country. Land reforms are a necessary ingredient for maintaining peace and stability in Africa and it forms the basis for nationhood and identity.
Julius Malema Is Leading The Fight To Reclaim South Africa’s Stolen Land