Without land, no dignity for Africans

By Joram Nyathi

A RELATIVELY new Pan-Africanist political party calling itself Black First Land First (BLF) in South Africa is described in the media as obscure. But not so the cause it is championing in a country where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is seen as too timid to adopt an aggressive policy to address people’s hunger for land.

Founded in 2015, and led by former ANC member Andile Mngxitama, the BLF has raised the stakes over land in South Africa even as Oxfam International warns that access to land and its natural endowments has become a global problem causing mass displacements and killings of the poor – those most in need of agricultural and pastoral lands – by greedy corporations and private speculators.

In a founding document published by the City Press in August last year, Mngxitama argues that since majority rule in 1994, South Africa has spent a staggering R50 billion to buy just eight percent of farmland from whites while about one million blacks have been displaced from their land. He is bitter that so much money belonging to South Africa’s poor is being spent in buying back what was “stolen” from them.

He laments that blacks in South Africa have been neglected if not betrayed by the ANC government and that they come last in nearly everything from land ownership to education and job opportunities, the latter because they were denied quality education under apartheid rule.

He is inspired in his ideological posture by none other than that Martinique-born French revolutionary and intellectual, Frantz Fanon, who declared: “For a colonised people, the most essential value, because it’s the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”

Mngxitama is disappointed with formerly radical Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema whom he says is now compromised after he recently told students at Stellenbosch University that only “unproductive land” should be appropriated. In the past he has threatened to seize banks, mines and farms without compensation should his party come into power.

The BLF doesn’t believe votes will give people back their land either, preferring rather the Robert Mugabe way in Zimbabwe in rhetoric set to rattle white capital that’s already nervous about a volatile Rand currency in the land of Mandela.

Showing his frustration with the slow pace of land redistribution under the ANC government, the BLF leader was recently quoted by the African News Agency telling his supporters: “Land doesn’t come through voting.

Those who say vote for us and we’ll give you your land are lying to you. If you want land, you take it. You take the land. Forward with Mugabe!”

Zimbabwe launched a revolutionary land reform programme in 2000 to redistribute farms from a few white farmers to the landless black majority. So far, nearly 300,000 people have benefited.

However, the success of the programme has been compromised by a plethora of problems, from sanctions imposed on the country as punishment for the land reform to lack of technical skills, inadequate funding and frequent drought conditions in the whole SADC region ascribed to climate change.

Mngxitama went on, telling the African News Agency: “We are going to follow the President of Zimbabwe.

We take the land by force. We are not going to buy this land because it was stolen from us. The ANC is scared of white people.”

This is not eccentricism peculiar only to South Africa and Zimbabwe. Namibians are getting more vociferous in agitating for a more radical land policy and an end to marginalisation in the economy.

But it is findings by Oxfam International which are alarming. In a report titled Custodians of the Land: Defenders of our Future set to be released next month, Oxfam, a humanitarian aid agency, talks of desperate struggles for land in Latin America, Asia and Africa by the poor against a scramble by corporations and super-rich individuals to meet rising demand for food and biofuels or mineral resources.

The report accuses spineless or treacherous governments of conniving with land predators and signing deals for the takeover of communal land without consulting the rural poor who need it the most, such as farmers and pastoralists.

It says that 95 percent of rural communal land is not documented, and the victims are rarely educated enough to assert their rights.

“Governments and powerful business interests are marginalising up to 2,5 billion women and men from their lands,” says Oxfam, a confederation of 18 organisations which operates in 90 countries in poverty alleviation programmes. A full report of its grim findings on the scramble for land will be released next month.

Most of the deals will soon be ready for implementation, says Oxfam, and will affect millions of the world’s poor.

“It is the single biggest attack in the world today on people’s identity, rights, livelihoods, and security, as well as our environment,” it warns, adding; “A diverse campaign of terror and displacement is taking place in many countries, driven by greed and impunity.

People are being beaten, forcibly evicted, intimidated, disenfranchised, criminalized, tricked, discriminated against and denied their rights.”

To some extent, Zimbabwe is a step ahead of most of the countries targeted for the new scramble for Africa.

While much of the communal land could be said to be undocumented, the land reform means it cannot easily be sold commercially to big business and speculators because it remains state land.

More importantly, most of the people resettled since 2000 have also been issued with 99-year leases on what is essentially state land, meaning short of being “tricked” in deals between “weak and pitiless governments” and corporations, they are protected by the law.

But the rise of Black First Land First in South Africa reminds us that many people now realise it is not yet uhuru in Africa without restoration of land to the black majority. Without it there can be no dignity, nor anything concrete to signify true independence.

October 2016
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