2013 Whose Land is It Anyway?
06 March 2013. It’s been a hundred years since South African Law makers cemented apartheid laws effectively legislating the dehumanization and continued enslavement of 80 percent of the country’s population, in its infamous 1913 Natives Land Act. It’s been a hundred years and the current democratic government still doesn’t know whose land is it anyway.
The state admitted in a recent news report that it owns only 22 percent of South African Land. Adding that in this year 2013, a year marking a centenary since the Native Land Act was passed in 1913, they still don’t know who owns 79 percent of the land in the country. The land must (still) be in the hands of the private sector, local and or foreign investors.
An audit will be launched, announced the reporter on e-news, to investigate who owns the land again.
Government’s land restitution program has so far been just too slow and not necessarily a failure, she quoted a government source. The fact that much of the land (read farmland) that has already been distributed to its “rightful owners” has ceased to be productive has not counted in government’s favour. No so long ago a government spokesperson from the department of land affairs or agriculture said their policy of willing buyer willing seller had not been successful. Land-owners he said were refusing to sell their land at less than market prices. This means government will not reach its target of distributing 30 percent of the land by 2014, an election year.
The audit then, if done, is just a delay tactic to answering the burning question of land restitution – whose land is it anyway? Really?
This question – for those who haven’t noticed – has been showing up in a lot of different ways in our beautiful land. I am tempted to describe the magnitude of this “bubbling up” through a small citation of one of my favourite jazz standards “You go to my head” a 1938 popular song composed by J Fred Coots, with lyrics by Haven Gillepse.
There are two version I love most . One is performed by Billie Holiday and the other version by Louis Armstrong. Of course the song has since been sampled by many Jazz greats, Frank Sinatra et al. There was a raging debate at some point about which version is better, Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday. I love both. The coarse happy rustiness of Armstrong’s droll draws me in. Billie Holiday is so blase about the whole things it’s beautiful to listen to. But it is the lyrics of the song, and not so much its intoxicating melody that is relevant for today’s topic. And the lyrics go something like this:
“You go to my head” and You linger like a haunting refrain;And I find you spinning round In my brain;Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne;You go to my head;Like a sip of sparkling burgundy brew;And I find the very mention of you;Like the kicker in a julep or two;The thrill of the thought;That you might give a thought;To my plea, casts a spell over me;Still I say to myself;Get a hold of yourself;Can’t you see that it never can be;You go to my head with a smile;That makes my temperature rise;Like a summer with a thousand Julys….
There seems to be trouble every where you see, most of it emanating from issues about land. If my champagne motif is too romantic for you, please do feel free to imagine tiny volcanoes bubbling up everywhere. It’s so hot even the sky casts a brilliant pink and redish hues at sunset in our city of gold.
South African’s Ministry of Minerals and Energy is beset by a number of problems not limited to: Acid mine drainage from old non-operational mines, seeping deep underground and resurfacing or decanting and filtering through underground water reservoirs in Johannesburg’s west rand. The mining belt.
The acid mine drainage problem – which government has so far failed to resolve – has now reportedly spread to farm and grazing land in Johannesburg’s western area. Recent research by the University of the free-state found that cows/beef meat from that area tested positive for Uranium contamination. The quoted scientists said the Uranium levels were not high enough to be deemed dangerous for human consumption, however considering how much South Africa’s love their meat, it is possible that those levels could be increased with increased consumption? That story has not made headlines yet in South Africa.
A Mine workers went on strike last year demanding better pay, a demand whose reply resulted in least 34 people tragically losing their lives. The Mining industry seeing unexpected opportunity to make even more money has announced fore-closures, and some are shaving off their workers citing the high cost of labour, wildcat strikes,lack of productivity etc. A forgotten yet painfully huge problem of occupational health diseases such as silica silicosis , TB, and lung disease not to mention the ever popular HIV/AIDs in the mining industry has left close to a million men ( according to current occupational health figures ) too sick to work after an average three years working at the coal face. These men are then sent home disabled and without any sustainable form of compensation or medical assistance. They go home to die basically.
A number of service delivery protests have left many a car, school or library torched, teachers are too tired to teach overcrowded unruly “township” classrooms, there are no text books at schools. If any are to be found they are quickly burnt at the stakes or on the streets by faceless enemies of the people.
The Municipal demarcation board of South Africa is currently finalizing municipal ward demarcations in preparation for the National Elections in 2014. Their job is to basically organize people in their voting district or wards, prepare the ground for the IEC to distributes ballots for elections. How these borders are drawn greatly affects – in a non-scientific way- who wins a ward, a municipalities, regions to provinces and ultimately who wins the Natioanal elections.
For those in South Africa ( some of these “service delivery protests” are based disagreements on ward determinations i.e which municipality you fall under, and what services you will be able to access as a result) It’s so simple my complex mind often cannot understand it. But basically its all about pies and divisions.
Our new democratic governmentrecently demonstrated its position on the burning question of whose land is it anyway when it razed to the ground about 80 homes built it said illegally in Lenasia South of Johannesburg.
The land it said was intendend for low cost housing developments (RDP houses) in middle of Surburban bliss Lensai – they clearly stated that the home owners had broken the law. The government chose to ignore the fact that it was it’s own employees who offered land to the homeowners and gave them all the “illegal” title deeds and bank loans legitimizing the sale of the land and plans to built the demolished houses.
But they had to “show” them that they have the last word. We’ll take your hard earned money and everything you have built and leave you with nothing. That is what happened in Lenasia. And I forgive everyone involved.
I never quite learnt how to play chess…so I will leave it up to you to figure out this move.
Farm workers in the famous Cape Winelands are back to work after their protests demanding better wages were rewarded with a basic wage increase of 50 ZAR up from 50 r 65 South Africa a day depending on who you choose to believe ,they are now receiving a minimum wage of a 100 ZARs a day ( about 10 USD). By this time most farm workers had already gone back to work even before the unions and farm owners concluded negotiations because even I know that even though 50 rands a day is a small amount at the very best of times – it is ultimately much more than having nothing at the end of the day.
Government’s proposal for a land audit is a reasonable argument if one is not paying attention. But look a little closer and you will not help but wonder how the state has been redistributing land without an audit of how much land there is to distribute in the first place.
If we are going to divide something, we must know how much of it there is to divide. So either an audit was never done in the first place or they know who owns the land and how much of it. They just don’t want us to know that.
The Municipal Demarcation Board has the entire country’s map down to the finer details of who is you neighbour. They know.
A possible scenario could be that our custodians; the chief negotiators of our democracy our beloved heroes among them from former President Nelson Mandela, former President Thabo Mbeki, Former President Kgalema Motlanthe, Deputy President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa, to our current sitting President Jacob Zuma agreed to a power sharing deal of 22 percent which still has or had nothing to do freeing the majority of marginalized South Africa’s, only some. Maybe they agreed on a power sharing deal which I sometimes imagine could have gone something like this : ( keep an open mind there are a million other possibilities) :
FreedomFighters: Give us everything you have , it is ours…
Apartheid Government: No way Jose, we worked for it
FF: We will destroy everything.
A G: listen I have a plan to get us both what we want.
FF: what kind of plan is that?
AG: Listen here, no, just listens to me okay? Hear me out. You can be president and take all the power in government. No – don’t worry we’ll keep our people there who will work with you, you know, to show you the ropes of how we do things here you will be just fine.
FF: But…. You mean???!!!!
AG: Ah-ah-ha. Don’t worry about it Broer , my comrade don’t worry. It’s not a problem for us… we can arrange everything. ..
FF: But what about….
AG: Listen here’s the plan. Well give you the land your people already live on okay? that’s 20 percent a huge number my friend big number, big land…. lots and lots of it. Not only that, you see we will also add an additional one no…. two percent which you can distribute to whoever you like. Just don’t worry, don’t worry about anything. We will take care of business.
AG: No my friend don’t panic. It’s really not as bad as you think. We will take care of business …everything we’ll give you the money and profits. And listen here you don’t have to worry about all the technical stuff and numbers and all that – it’s all boring. You don’t have to worry about the numbers …. We will do all that for you. Besides you won’t have time while you’re in government to do all technical stuff you will be busy running the country. We will take care of everything and make it look like you’re the one doing it. The mining and the farming and everything, you don’t have to think about that, you must just focus on running the country; we will then give you a stake in the different parastatals, the companies we own…. You like flying don’t you??
FF: Yes BUT you don’t understand.
AG: Of course I understand, of course, you want a stake in the business and we’ll arrange it. You can have black economic empowerment policy where you can distribute the shares in businesses amongs yourselves. We can even throw in a few CEO positions to reward so your educated chaps in your camp you have enough of them don’t you? we are prepared to give it you on the condition that you keep your promise.
I guess we all still reading this story. We don’t how it ends because you see we are still in conversation.
.I remember a conversation I had with Princeton University Professor Bernadette Atuahene, in her office in at the Wits Law School in Johannesburg last year. She looked great and happy despite the amount of work and subject matter she was dealing with.
She was warm and eager to share with me the information she had learned from her many years of research on the land Restitution Program in South Africa. All her information was collected in her book:
” We Want What’s Ours-An Evaluation of South Africa’s Land Restitution Program’
There is one moment I will never forget in our conversation she said as if hearing herself say it out loud for the first time: ” Jedi, I realized they THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT!”
The truth of her statement left me frozen, and I have been cold in summer ever since. I’m warming up now.
It stands to reason then that I will not accept the government’s assertion that they don’t know who owns 78 percent of the land. They know. It is the same architects of the 1913 Native Land Act. Nice one Chap, Brilliant! I could not have thought of a better plan myself” I can hear an exchange of mutual admiration. This deal according to word on the word on the street could have happened earlier circa 1846 somewhere in Bloemfontein. But we shall work with what we know now.
Professor Atuehene, calm in manner and character, display an urgency in her voice that made me literally want to jump from my seat at her round table and run! How foolish one can be..
” There’s a study” She said searching for the right link ” that says that recent polls asking South African about the land question…(by South Africans we mean the majority of marginalized people of the country. Black African population of South Africa in short : all the marginalized in long hand) found that 80 of them percent believe that the “land” was stolen from them and should be returned back to its “rightful” owners by any means necessary” She turned to me her eyes widening in bewilderment. Or was it mine?
Does that answer your Zimbabwe Question.
How do we resolve the “land Question” without the kind of fight that has left us barely able to walk proudly as part of the human race?
Can we restore dignity to ourselves and other’s ? How do we continue to love when it seems the battle lines have been firmly painted on the ground. Stand behind that line.
The simplest answer is by sharing.
How do we share?
Let’s has that conversation.