SA land debate lost in translation


A MOTION passed in Parliament the other day to expedite land reform, doing away with the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller”, is raising hackles across the world.

Never mind the debilitating drought in Cape Town, this motion actually made the news in Australia, so much so that one of my former colleagues at the Cape Times asked me to go on radio interview to give context to the new “law”.

So while wrapping up work, I was called by a producer from “The Grill Team” which is broadcast on Triple M in Sydney, Australia. The host, he never introduced himself, wanted to know about “a law that was passed that would take away farms from people and hand them to blacks”.

Before the host of the show, I imagine him being a beer-swilling Australian alpha-male, could come at me, I had to correct him, that no law was passed in Parliament and this was just a motion- a massive difference between the two.

Now that we got that small detail out of the way, the host came at me with a set of questions which made it clear that he had chosen a side, and wanted me to basically nod in agreement. The smart people at universities call this behaviour Confirmation Bias.

I was surprised that he didn’t ask me about sport quotas, and the composition of the South African cricket team. But to digress, I kept calm and tried to be as logical as someone can be who has been in the office for over 12 hours.

When I told him that white people would not exclusively be targeted, and black people could also lose their land if government dispensed with the “willing buyer, willing seller” model, I could imagine the look of anguish on his face 11 005 kilometres away from my small office at Parliament.

While I was trying to give context to South Africa’s politics, that ANC policy states that while they want “land expropriation without compensation” there are numerous caveats built in, for instance that this should not negatively affect food production and the economy.

But this context was not sufficient, and before I could finish off by saying that most of the concern was fueled by alarmist rightwing organisations like AfriForum, I was cut off. Another lesson in tolerance handed down to me, this time from a white Australian – the irony was poignant.

Australia, like South Africa was a settler colony and those settlers got their land through the wholesale dispossession of the indigenous people. I’m sure in the back of his mind, the radio host trying to steer the conversation about land in South Africa would have been aware of this fact.

This time around, white people are the “victims”, AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel sends out messages that his organisation will “warn” the international community (read reactionary white people) about property rights in South Africa. It would be interesting to know what his forebears were doing in 1913 when the dispossession of black people reached an apex through an act of Parliament.

Those like Kriel will never talk about the Group Areas Act or how taxes imposed on traditional leaders forced many young men into the cities, to provide labour as mineworkers, contained in single-sex hostels which have wreaked havoc, to this day, with the black family.

According to the long-awaited land audit, while black South Africans constitute 79% of the population, they only own about 1,2% of South Africa’s rural land and 7% of property formally registered in cities and towns.

The likes of Kallie Kriel, AfriForum and their supporters around the world should take cognisance of these figures it essentially means that a large majority of black people, despite a democratic dispensation, are being kept in poverty owing to the fact that they do not own land.

South Africa cannot afford to simply dismiss the dispossession that took place and it’s incumbent upon government to see to it that more black people own the land of this country, lest we want to continue the poverty that accompanies landlessness.

Quinton Mtyala is the Politics Editor for the Western Cape Editor, Independent Media