Land is an explosive issue as manifested in South Africa by the “expropriation without compensation” debate and the Israeli massacre of Palestinians in Gaza as they peacefully marched in protest of the unending usurpation of their land.
The expropriation and forced removal of the indigenous people by European settler colonialists from their lands is a grave and enduring injustice. In SA White settler colonialists began the process of dispossessing “natives” from their lands forcibly excluding Black people from the 1890’s.
A series of laws culminating with the Natives Land Act of 1913 had a profound effect on the African population across the country. It further laid down the foundation for other legislation which further entrenched dispossession of African people and later the segregation of Coloured and Indian people.
The Act’s most catastrophic provision for Africans was the prohibition from buying or hiring land in 93% of South Africa thus closing avenues of livelihood other than to work for white farmers and industrialists. In essence, Africans were confined to ownership of 7% South Africa’s land rendering them destitute.
The Native Land Act became a critical edifice in the construction of a racially divided SA. Acts such as the Urban Areas Act (1923), Natives and Land Trust Act (1936) and the Group Areas Act (1950) reinforced land dispossession and segregation.
Private land in Palestine in 1947 was 93% owned by Christian and Muslim Palestinians and only 7% by Jews.Yet the United Nations, pressurised by the USA, unjustly allocated approximately 55% of Palestinian land to the proposed Jewish state.
Within a year over 80 percent of the land within Israel that was once owned by Palestinians had been confiscated after the ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians. Now 93 percent of “Israel’s” land can only be leased or owned by Jews or Jewish agencies.
This impoverished the Palestinians deprived of their land, home and hearth that they had lived on for generations. The Israel Land Administration mandated the World Zionist Organisation and its subsidiaries, the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, to develop the stolen land for the exclusive benefit of Jews.
On 30 March 1976, just months before the Soweto uprising, thousands of Palestinians from towns and villages in the occupied Galilee region, marched in protest against an Israeli order to confiscate more land belonging to indigenous communities in the area. Israeli police shot and killed six Palestinian protestors.
Since then, the event has been marked annually as Yawm Al-Ard or Land Day. It is a major commemorative date in the Palestinian political calendar and an important event in the Palestinian collective narrative, equivalent to Soweto’s June 16 or March 21 Sharpville massacres in SA.
Land Day emphasises Palestinian resistance to Israel’s brutal colonisation and oppression, and Palestinian sumud (steadfastness). The population of historic Palestine (before 1948) was largely a rural one. People lived and made a living off pieces of lands they inherited through many generations.
Israel violently dispossessed and expelled Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys to their homes. They continue to illegally annex Palestinian territory and the “Judiasation” of Jerusalem continues unabated in violation of international laws and the Geneva Convention.
On 30 March 2018, Good Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered, un-armed, at a nonviolent and peaceful protest, dubbed the #GreatReturnMarch, when Israeli snipers started shooting live ammunition at the gathering, turning the day into Bloody Friday.
Israeli snipers shot dead 17 Palestinians and injured 1500 civilians including over 150 children under the age of 16, leaving many with life altering disabilities.
The Land Day protests reaffirms the unity of all Palestinians to resist en masse the colossal level of land theft who are now left with a paltry 8% of their original land.
Almost 25 years since South Africa’s freedom, studies show ‘whites’ still own 67% of commercial agricultural land; 15% owned by ‘black’ communal areas (mostly state-owned); 10% other state land; and 8% by the remainder, including urban areas.
Thus, the shadow of the Natives Land Act is still evident in post -Apartheid South Africa where a significant proportion of land remains in the ownership of white farmers. Blacks and government together own about 26% of commercial agricultural land, up from 14% when apartheid formally ended in 1994.
This injustice will guarantee that simmering racial tensions continue in SA, recently fuelled by the offer to white SA farmers by the Australian foreign minister to emigrate. Similarly, fallacious scenarios of a Zimbabwe-style land grab, as opposed to structured land restitution, feeds into the frenzy.
As history shows, the unjust occupation of peoples land cannot be sustained for long. When the crash comes it will be sudden. The continued resistance of the 2 million people in Gaza, together with another 10 million Palestinians throughout the world, demonstrates that Palestinians will not vanish, will not be destroyed and will not be subjugated.
Just as Soweto and Sharpville is symbolic of Black SA’s resistance and victory over oppression, so is Gaza the remaining symbol of Palestine’s dispossessed people in their quest to free their occupied land.
Dr Firoz Osman is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network, an advocacy group based in Gauteng, South Africa