South Africa: Whites Own 90% Land

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Recent moves by the South African government to seize land to speed up land redistribution to the landless Blacks amply demonstrates why the Zimbabwe route to land reform was unavoidable in the wake of formidable resistance by the white land owning class.

More than 90% of the land is still owned by the white minority in South Africa. The country's "reform" plan calls for 33% of all arable land to be redistributed to Blacks by 2014; Blacks, however, are growing inpatient with this snail’s pace. Some South Africans are now calling for a "Zimbabwe Solution," adding pressure on the leadership.

“Very little progress has been made in terms of land redistribution," President Thabo Mbeki, said in a recent televised national address. "We will undertake a careful review of the inhibiting factors so that this program is urgently speeded up.�

South Africa’s so-called “softly-softly� approach of willing-buyer, willing-seller model, similar to what took place before the fast-track land reform in Zimbabwe, is now collapsing as the landless Blacks grow impatient about this slow process. Ironically, so-called mainstream Western media are not covering this story.

The rich white land-owning class will hurl everything to scuttle South Africa’s land reform process which seeks to redress social and economic injustice which was solidified in Apartheid South Africa for many decades. It’s proving impossible for this class to part with the land which their ancestors violently grabbed from Blacks during the colonial conquest era.

Zimbabwe has paid a heavy price for its radical approach to land reform, with sanctions spearheaded by the U.K., U.S. and Australia—Additionally, Zimbabwe was vilified and its leaders thoroughly demonized for speeding up the land reform process.

Yet events happening South of the Limpopo river show that deeply entrenched white land interests don’t succumb to kid gloves approach. South Africa's skewed land ownership structure is much more serious than Zimbabwe's case. The extent to which indigenous people were dispossessed of their land by whites in South Africa under colonial rule and apartheid has no parallels on the entire African continent.

South Africa’s land reform program has made limited headway in the first decade of South Africa's democracy. "South Africa has to learn to make space for policy-making structures in order to prevent the unrest and political dynamics that will follow a failure to deliver on land reform," Prof. Sam Moyo, director of the South African-based Institute of Agrarian Studies, has observed in the past.

"One of the reasons for land reform taking place slowly is because it depends on government's ability to pay for the land,� Dr. Ruth Hall of the Program for Land And Agrarian Studies, has said in the past. “A backlog occurs because the government exercises fiscal discipline and cannot buy all the land at once."

The white establishment and the opposition Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon say fast track land reform is "irresponsible, illegal and a red flag to investors.� Yet critics contend the African National Congress cannot afford to fold its hands on the land question. The burden of poverty and unemployment needs solutions.

News that the South African government has started forcibly redressing the land grievances of the apartheid era by moving to expropriate a 25,000 hectare farm in the Northern Cape speaks volumes about the emotive land issue.

After decades of dispossession, more than 400 claimants of the Pniel Farm will have their dream of returning to their ancestral land fulfilled.

Their forefathers were violently evicted from their land by white farmers. "I did not believe that one day we would be here," 76-year old Abraham Modise, whose parents were forced off the land and moved into a shantytown on the outskirts of Kimberley in 1967, told local media.

"We were all transferred and I ended up working on the railways. Now I want to come back and live but it needs a young person to do the farming. I hope my children may come but they live in Johannesburg."

The order to expropriate the land was issued after a four-year battle over the price and conditions of sale between the government and the Lutheran church. The church had wanted $9.8 million (US) but the state offered about half that amount on a “take-it-or-leave-it-basis.�

The South African government is targeting to settle 7,000 rural land claims before the end of 2008.

Tsiko is The Black Star News’ Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe


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