Time to fulfil liberation objectives

SOUTH African and Namibian governments are facing increasing pressure, from their citizens, to speedily find a lasting solution to the land question or face a land revolution.

The two countries should also be careful not to divorce the fight for independence from the fight to reclaim land taken through means of brutality and legal instruments created with the sole aim of oppressing the majority, who are the rightful owners of the land.

South Africa saw riots by farm workers this year, resulting in the destruction of plantations and other commercial farming activities. The workers wanted a living wage and an opportunity to own land as a means of production. The workers also protested that they fawanted their land back from the white population because the whites ‘stole the land’.

In Namibia, a group called the Landless People’s Movement, under the leadership of some ruling Swapo Party members of parliament, has been calling for the return of their ancestral land, forcefully taken away during the colonial era. This group has also complained of discrimination in the government’s land redistribution or resettlement programme. Both governments refuse to budge and risk going head-to-head with their citizens if this thorny issue is not addressed as a matter of urgency.

In an a bizarre twist, South African President Jacob Zuma has broken rank with his government and the ruling party, the ANC’s stance, in supporting a motion tabled by his bête noire Julius Malema’s party, the Economic Freedom Front (EFF). The EFF’s motion aims to change the law to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation. This is because both countries’ constitutions protect private land ownership. The South African protesters and the EFF are not moved by their country’s constitution and counter this by saying the apartheid government made laws to displace blacks and forcefully remove them from their land. They are calling for the same laws to be made with the aim of redressing the gains of colonialism.

President Zuma’s stance is perhaps born out of the understanding that without government intervention, a revolution will still destroy the very economy government and the ruling party is trying to protect. The question is, however, whether his government and party will heed his call.

This is the closest the South African government has come to acknowledging that the country’s land policies and programmes have failed. The willing buyer, willing seller model has been severely criticised as a failure and only serving the minority, who own the majority of the land in both countries.

In Zimbabwe, the policy failed to work, resulting in the fast-track land reform programme of the early 2000s, which saw more than 300,000 families being resettled.

In Namibia, the policy has been criticised because the white farm owners have been inflating farm prices, thus manipulating market prices and making the land unaffordable for government to purchase for land redistribution purposes. The same farmer also found loopholes of circumventing the law to sell their farms to Europeans, thus putting the land out of reach of black Namibians.

The core of the debate is affording citizens the opportunity to own the means of agricultural production and to level the playing field by giving them a fighting chance to succeed.

It is true that those who benefited from the land programmes thus far have not made significant strides in turning their newly acquired lands into well-oiled farming machines raking in millions of dollars in profits as the previous land owners. But this comes from the fact that government dumps these beneficiaries on the land and does nothing further to improve their capacity to become players in the country’s fight for food security and growing the economy.

The difference is that during colonialism, not only did the government of the day make laws to favour the minority white farmers but it also made money available to ensure the farmers were able to produce. How else did South Africa survive sanctions, in the 1980s, by managing to feed its people and building a thriving agricultural sector? Is it not because the government of the day deliberately made policies to support and uplift the beneficiaries of its land distribution programmes?

Both governments should perhaps learn from the Zimbabwean experience. Beneficiaries of land delivery in that country have now started using their land for commercial purposes after years of just trying to survive. They did not have money, apart from limited technical support from their government, to use their land to its fullest potential, but two decades later it is starting to yield results.

In the last two years, Zimbabwe has seen an increase in the production of cash crops such as tobacco for export.

The bulk of the tobacco produced in the country is by resettled farmers and is now a source of income not only for a number of families, but the country.  The tobacco farmers last year raked into the country US$600 million and this year the figure is likely to be higher due to increased number of black farmers growing the crop.

The long and short of it is that the resources of the Zimbabwean people are now in their own hands and they will have to determine how to fully utilise such resources.  The sooner other countries in the region realise this, the better for the majority poor.

We must not lose sight of the fact that liberation struggles were waged in the region – from Angola to Zimbabwe – because of land and it is therefore high time the principal objective of these struggles was fulfilled.   

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March 2017
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