Ntombifikile Nkiwane graduated from Dalhousie University in 2017 with a degree in Business. In her first year at Dalhousie, Ntombi organized the “How Would You React” campaign addressing racism on campus. Ntombi was active in the social justice community, and organized the solidarity march for Ferguson in August, 2014. Ntombi was active in the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign, and organized petitions on campus recognizing the connection between the struggle against statues of Rhodes and the Mi’kmaq battle against Cornwallis. Read a Dal News profile of Ntombi here. 

Ntombi returned to South Africa after graduating. I interviewed her over email about the land reform policies currently being debated in the country. 

Image of Ntombi Nkiwane from Dal News. (Photo by Danny Abriel.)

Could you tell me what’s happening with the land redistribution policies in South Africa?

Historical Background

Land dispossession was central to the colonial project in South Africa. Until Dutch (European) settlers arrived in the Cape in 1652, marking the beginning of colonization, the Indigenous economy was dominated by subsistence farming and hunting. Long before the Native Land Act passed, Indigenous (Black) South Africans from Khoikhoi, San, Sotho, Zulu, and other groups fought wars against colonial settlers for control of land.

Communal land ownership was replaced by privatization of land, which could be bought or sold: a key underpinning of the capitalist economy.

There were massive displacements of Black people by colonial and apartheid era states. A shortage of labour accompanied by capitalist expansion led to laws (the Glen Grey Act of 1894, drafted by Cecil John Rhodes) being implemented forcing cheap Black labour onto farms and mines (migrant labour system). The Native Land Act of 1913 forced Black South African people onto seven per cent of arable land, which was largely infertile. This further forced Black people to leave these lands and find work (more cheap labour).

Image from globalblackhistory.com

After Apartheid was legally instituted in 1945, control of these areas became more rigorous, and Black people were separated according to ethnic groups. These areas became called Homelands/Bantustans, and were led by chiefs (who were appointed by and collaborators with the Apartheid government.)

Due to largescale land theft, by the end of Apartheid, 87 per cent of land was owned by whites, who make up nine per cent of the South African population. Black people make up 79 per cent of the population (reaching 90 per cent if Coloureds* and Indians are included).

Land Claims

The 2017 land audit, conducted by government, indicated that land ownership is still deeply skewed along racial lines. For example, whites own 23.6 per cent of all rural land. The vast majority of South African commercially farmed produce is provided by white Afrikaaners). However, the audit only accounted for 33 per cent of South African land. Sixty-seven per cent of land is owned by companies, trusts, churches, community organizations, traditional authorities, and the state.

In my estimation, at least 65 per cent of all land is owned by white South Africans.

The Land Claims Court was established in 1996, by African National Congress (ANC) government, to deal with land restitution/ land claims cases. This court allows claims if Black people can prove that they were dispossessed of an area of land, the land is given back by a willing seller, or the Black claimant is allowed to choose a monetary settlement.

Section 25 of the South African Constitution, is arguably the most important, yet most contentious section. S.25 deals with property rights (aka the land question).

S.25 (2-7) says:

(2) Property may be expropriated only in terms of law of general application— (a) for a public purpose or in the public interest; and (b) subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.

 (3) The amount of the compensation and the time and manner of payment must be just and equitable, reflecting an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected, having regard to all relevant circumstances, including— (a) the current use of the property; (b) the history of the acquisition and use of the property; (c) the market value of the property; (d) the extent of direct state investment and subsidy in the acquisition and beneficial capital improvement of the property; and (e) the purpose of the expropriation. 

 (4) For the purposes of this section— (a) the public interest includes the nation’s commitment to land reform, and to reforms to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources; and (b) property is not limited to land. 

(5) The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to foster conditions which enable citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis.

(6) A person or community whose tenure of land is legally insecure as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament, either to tenure which is legally secure or to comparable redress.

(7) A person or community dispossessed of property after 19 June 1913 as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices is entitled, to the extent provided by an Act of Parliament.

Evidently, the Constitution lays out guidelines for land redistribution, and although it does not overtly state so, it allows for the expropriations of land (without compensation).

Image from sahistory.org.za

Why has the ANC pussyfooted around this issue?

The expropriation of land without compensation is a hot topic at the moment in South Africa.

Since 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) government has failed to expropriate a single piece of land, as a form of restitution, for Black South Africans. Claims have only been settled through the Land Claims Court.

The Land Claims Court has also been a dismal failure.

There is a backlog in cases (which can take years to be resolved). The court has paid white land owners market value or close to market value, many times, for this land acquired through theft.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, tabled a motion in National Assembly (Tues, Feb 27) calling for the expropriation of land without compensation, as redress for colonial and Apartheid injustices.

Julius Malema. Image from timeslive,co.za

The EFF argues that, out of principle, no compensation should be made for stolen land.

The motion was overwhelmingly successful: out of 324 parliamentarians who voted, 241 voted in favour of the motion. Now, the motion will be referred to the Constitutional Review Committee, to “review and amend Section 25.”

This process is long and tedious, and will take over 1 year to complete.

What is the feeling among Black South Africans about this motion? Whites?

Most white South Africans, especially white Afrikaaners, are experiencing moral panic/ fear as a result of the motion.

Many are arguing that current white farmers/land owners did not steal the land (and therefore that they are being unduly punished.)

This argument is demonstrably false. Their forefathers committed largescale theft- even if it was three or four generations ago. Furthermore, those who purchased land at market value even as late as the ’80s and ’90s participated in an exclusive market. Black people were excluded from the formal economy/ purchasing land for over 80 years.

Black South Africans are divided: many Black South Africans support the motion, whereas others (particularity Black liberals) do not.

It is very confusing as to why the thought of land expropriation without compensation is triggering fear amongst certain elements of the South African population.

Redressing land dispossession is in the national interest, as it will help alleviate South Africa’s “triple challenge”: poverty, inequality, and unemployment.

There are some members of white and Black communities who argue that land redistribution needs to occur, however land expropriation without compensation can occur within the precepts of the constitution and the constitution does not need to be amended.

I am sympathetic to this argument.

Many members who are sympathetic to the aforementioned argument also question why the EFF drafted the motion in the first place. It is argued that this is a populist move meant to gain votes.

The EFF have been repeatedly been criticized as being demagogues, a characterization which the party refutes. The EFF’s initial political strategy was to remove Jacob Zuma as President of the Republic. Now that Zuma resigned (on Wednesday, Feb 14), I believe the EFF has started to panic, hence they drafted and tabled the motion.

Another argument, among white and Black South Africans is that if land expropriation without compensation occurs rapidly, it will destroy food security. As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of local produce is produced by white Afrikaaner farmers.

Another argument put forward is land expropriation in South Africa will mirror land expropriation in Zimbabwe. Land expropriated in Zimbabwe was initially handed to members of the political elite.

Image from ibtimes.co.uk

I am also sympathetic to this argument. Young South Africans must ensure that land expropriated is distributed among poor and working class South Africans. We don’t want to produce a capitalist land owning class, where the land is owned by the Black bourgeoisie. Land must also not be seen as a private commodity; it should be self-managed by labourers.

A final argument is about the emotive nature of the land question/ monetary settlements. Obviously, land dispossession in South Africa is an emotive topic. I believe the EFF’s motion to expropriate is also largely symbolic. I didn’t address this earlier, but the vast majority of Black claimants in the Land Claims Court settle for money, rather than land. Why is this? Why aren’t Black South Africans pursuing communal and commercial farming? Why hasn’t the ANC created policies and programs to encourage farming among Black South Africans?

I believe the main takeaway is that the ANC has pussyfooted around land redistribution. As mentioned above, why hasn’t the ANC invested in agricultural programs to train Black South Africans to manage and run farms? Furthermore, why haven’t they subsidized farming equipment for the few Black South Africans who have chosen to settle for land? Lack of access to expensive equipment (such as irrigation technology) is largely why we cannot compete with white farmers.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation process has been used as a model for redressing historical injustice, including in Canada with the TRC process for Indigenous people. What do you think this motion and the reaction to it says about the success of that process now?

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2001) was a dismal failure.

The aim of the Commission was to provide restorative justice to victims of gross human rights violations during Apartheid and their perpetrators through a process of “truth telling.”

Image from AFP.

However, firstly, white South Africans were not held to account, and got off scot-free. They were guaranteed amnesty in exchange for confessing to the heinous crimes they committed during Apartheid. Black South Africans who committed crimes were also granted amnesty in exchange for honest testimony.

Many perpetrators could not be bothered to attend the TRC proceedings, even though they knew they would not face prosecution.

Evidently, white South Africans did not, and were not willing to, reconcile with the legacy of Apartheid and its victims.

Sex crimes were also not addressed at the TRC. This represented another failure of the proceedings (taking into account the anecdotal evidence provided by Black women of being raped by white male police officers and spies, as well as by their own comrades in the Umkhonto we Sizwe camps).

Finally, a burden was placed on Black South Africans to forgive their aggressors, who had shown no remorse. Furthermore, white South Africans are not entitled to the forgiveness of Black South Africans, even if they do show remorse.

I believe the limitations of South Africa’s TRC process have also led to an overall failure in Canada’s TRC process, which is supposed to redress the injustices faced by Indigenous men and women. Some Indigenous people have indicated that they have been pressured into forgiveness by the Canadian government (i.e. TRC set out to appease the resentment and anger of Indigenous peoples). You see this in the way “reconciliation” was used to deny Mi’kmaq demands to remove the Cornwallis statue. Indigenous activists were represented as violent and as standing in the way of settler reconciliation.

Also, the Commission focused on Residential Schools, absolving the Canadian government from truly addressing the legacy of colonialism and associated phenomena, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The recent protests across Canada for justice for Colten Bushie and Tina Fontaine have raised this question of reconciliation: How can Indigenous people reconcile when they are still being freely killed?

Image from cbc.ca

You were part of the Rhodes Must Fall movement. Do you think young people in South Africa are driving this new approach to post-Apartheid justice?

Young, Black South Africans have experienced a political re-conscientization, in part due to the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in 2015. They are rejecting the “Rainbow Nation” myth. They are rejecting the notion of reconciliation being dictated by white South Africa.

They are also rejecting being characterized as “born frees.”

Born free refers to being born post-1994, and therefore not experiencing the weight of the Apartheid systems. This is empirically false: statistics indicate that (young) Black South Africans are at the bottom of South Africa’s socio-economic ladder (e.g. they experience double digit unemployment compared to single digit for their white counterparts; poor health outcomes; premature death; pervasive systemic racism; inadequate housing; high illiteracy rates; higher suicide rates; high rates of mental illness; high school and university dropout rates; face hate crimes; are overly surveilled and incarcerated; poverty stricken; malnourished; and experience environmental racism).

Image from UCT Rhodes Must Fall.

Young, middle age, and elderly Black South Africans are still heavily traumatized by the legacies of apartheid and colonialism.

Just as young white south Africans were not active proponents of Apartheid, they still are the main beneficiaries of the most racist system in history.

You spent time in Halifax as a student. How do you see this current turn away from reconciliation policies in relation to Canada’s reconciliation goals?

Canada’s failure at reconciliation policies is derived from its settler-colonial history. Although it purports to acknowledge, provide public education on, create a historical record, and provide compensation for the Indian Residential School system, Canada has not achieved these goals.

For example, the Canadian public is largely ignorant of and uninterested in confronting Indigenous histories, the struggle for Indigenous self-determination, as well as the brute nature of colonialism. The long resistance to removing the statue of Cornwallis, and the inability of white settlers to face the history of genocide celebrated by that statue gives the lie to mythologies of Canada as a “promised land.”

Land claims in Canada

Canada’s settler-colonial history is also intertwined with South Africa’s.

Apartheid architects often visited Canada to observe reservations set aside for First Nations peoples.

In the 1960s, Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s government continued to trade with South Africa, although publicly opposing its racist system.

RCMP officers went to South Africa in the late 1970s to teach Apartheid Defence Forces in “para-military” and “intelligence gathering” tactics — aka torture and land clearing methods.

Addressing Canada’s settler-colonial past would also include reckoning with Canada’s history of imperialism and militarism. Historical revisionism has positioned the country as a “peace-keeping” nation ignoring Canada’s long colonial legacy in Africa as well as current military actions.

Although there are dissimilarities, as evidenced, there are many similarities between the struggles for Indigenous self-determination in Canada, as well as in South Africa. Aluta Continua!

A smiling young Black woman with long wavy hair

El Jones

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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