The Bafokeng Example
Of course, Cecil Rhodes epitomises the challenges of the resource sector and the land question when left in the hands of a few. His De Beers Mining Company (founded in 1888) has loomed large over the resources of Southern Africa for decades, all on the back of cheap black labour, though.
But an illustration of the potential of capital formation for black people and its inter-generational effect, can be seen in South Africa’s own Bafokeng ethnic group. They managed to hold possession of land they bought back from colonisers and kept in Trust during the days of colonialism and apartheid and are today worth $4bn, following the discovery of massive deposits of platinum on their land in 1925. After the demise of apartheid in 1994, they had to fight bitter battles with mining giants to claim a 22 percent share of the spoils, and are now reputed to be Africa’s richest ethnic group. It is testament to the argument of what land ownership can do.
Another area where land, resources and racial capitalism have converged with wealth distribution is tourism, where in game farms and hospitality in South Africa, as across the board, blacks are at the periphery, performing the role of low-wage earners.
Then there are issues of rights, licenses and the rapid devolution of assets to whites, as happened immediately prior to the dismantling of apartheid rule in 1994.
A Problematic Constitution
South Africa’s constitution has often been touted as one of the finest in the world. For property rights to be amended, it will require a two-thirds majority of seats in parliament. An amendment of the entrenched Bill of Rights requires 75 percent. Besides, such changes must pass a test of constitutionality at the Constitutional Court. The ANC has wielded that two thirds majority, during the Thabo Mbeki Presidency in 1999, but it did little to rock the boat on the land issue. The fear has always been about capital flight and also, the lack of skills in the black community largely denied them by apartheid. With the ANC’s majority now sitting at 62.15 percent, it is going to need the assistance of other parties to bring about a constitutional change. Its arch enemy the EFF has offered to help, with their 6.25 percent of the votes. But will the ANC take this?
It is widely accepted that Section 28 of the constitution represented a compromise between the ANC and the now defunct National Party during the transition to democratic rule 21 years ago. Its interpretation gave rise to what is known as the willing buyer-willing seller principle.
That principle, which evolved from what may be an interpretation or misinterpretation of the constitution, is currently under serious criticism as things come to a head. Various leftist political formations in the past have passed it off as unworkable as it leaves room for various frustrations of the process. Julius Malema and his EFF have called for the expropriation of land without compensation, citing public interest. He likens the land issue to someone stealing your car and pimping it. When caught, he then says, you must buy it back at market value.
Although the ANC government has tried in the past to rest the land question for good, setting a cut-off date for land claims to 1998, the year came and passed. And since then, it has been dismal failure after failure, while the few landowners become more well equipped to legally frustrate any process.
The statistics are dire. In 1996, two years after the end of apartheid, some 60 000 white commercial farmers owned almost 70 percent of agricultural land and leased a further 19%. The ANC pledged to redistribute 30 percent of white-owned agricultural land to black farmers by 1999, and to restore property lost as a result of racist legislation. By 2012, some 7,95 million hectares had been transferred, only about a third of the 24.6 million originally targeted. An estimated $3,2bn was spent on the land reform programme between 1994 and 2013.
Now the government is speaking left, suddenly waking up to the dangers of letting the land issue fester any further. A law has been passed allowing an extension of land claims up to June 2019. Like the EFF, the government is now also singing the expropriation song in the public interest, even throwing in the appointment of Valuer General to determine fair land pricing. Hitherto the willing seller-willing buyer approach had led to massive inflation of land prices earmarked by government, as well as corrupt practices.
What Next For South Africa?
The land question is just one of the many unresolved issues in a post-apartheid South Africa. With the passing of Nelson Mandela and the intransigence of the economic status quo, tensions are rising, with a hardening of attitudes. There is a new generation of disgruntled youth who feel short-changed economically by the reconciliation narrative. They see Pan-Africanism as the solution to a just order. But will those who hold the purse strings and those that wield global power sit idly by as the youth give them this wake-up call, which calls for very cool heads?
As Cecil Rhodes is quoted to have said on his deathbed: “So many things to do, and so little done”
By: Pusch Commey