Who Said Apartheid Ended?

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Much has been made about land redistribution in Zimbabwe in recent years. Little is mentioned in Western corporate media about the unfair and share and the need for white settlers to return land to rightful African owners from whom the land was stolen. In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has been roasted by Western media, especially British and American, for his crash land reform that saw the return of land to rightful African owners.  Today, more Africans have acquired back their land and they are settling down to put the land to productive usage.

The same thing needs to be done in South Africa. Today, white South Africans who constitute only about 10% of the South African population own over 80% of the fertile and useful land. All the land was acquired illegally and forcefully by white settlers who came to South Africa decades ago. They used apartheid laws to grab land and now they think it’s illegal for Africans to have their land back. 

This week, a five day land summit is being held in Johannesburg, South Africa to ostensibly find ways to better redistribute the land to Africans from whom the land was grabbed. The intention of the summit sounds good. But the agenda falls short of what Africans want given back. The land summit is brining together politicians, landowners and organizations representing people who hope to benefit from land reform. The summit is also to discuss and explore ways of speeding up the redistribution process.

Over 1, 000 delegates are meeting at the Nasrec Expo Centre and International delegates from Kenya, Namibia, Mexico and Brazil are scheduled to speak and give their countries' experience in land reforms.  The summit is proposing that, 30% of agricultural land be redistributed to Africans by the year 2014 using what they call, “willing buyer, willing sellerâ€? scheme. This means, the poor Africans will have to buy back their land from the very people who stole it from them. How absurd. Buy back what is yours from the very people who stole it from you! It should also be noted that this was the strategy initially adopted by Zimbabwe.

It was only after the British reneged on providing the financing that Mugabe’s government decided to fast track.  By using the “willing buyer, willing seller,â€? approach the South African government believes it will defuse political and racial tension in South Africa. What they don’t address openly is the fact that the land was acquired illegally by the whites and therefore, returning the land to the Africans without having them pay for it will not be illegal. On the current land reform, by the year 2003, 3.5m hectares of land were redistributed in South Africa with 772,600 hectares of state land delivered. Only 1.7m hectares of state land was still available.

Private land owned by white settlers or their offspring must be bought at market price for redistribution. The problem is, the market approach cannot redistribute land to those who cannot afford it. How do you sell land to a person who does not have money? This approach gives land to those who already have land and those with money to acquire more at the expense of the poor and deserving. This unfair land policy has contributed significantly to the biting poverty in the African communities in South Africa.

The Africans have always looked up to their land for sustenance and economic beginnings. Instead, they have been forced to become destitute, homeless and beggars in their own country. White South Africans have privileged themselves to the extent that they hold other South Africans, especially Black South Africans hostage in their own country. This must be addressed now and then in order to heal the social and political assaults that white South Africans have done on the Africans. 

It was so exciting for everyone in 1994 when the ANC party led by Nelson Mandela won the presidential election and South Africans were able to elect the first African president in the history of the country. However, South Africans did not see it coming that they would still live under economic siege of the white settlers. As it was said about colonialism, the white man gave the Africans independence and took it away from the back door. The case for South Africa is that, they gave the Africans the right to rule or misrule themselves as along as they do not touch white economic power. 

In May, the South African constitutional court ruled that invasion of white farms by Africans is illegal and will cause anarchy in the country. What beats people’s understanding is the fact that, some of these very courts were the ones that legalized forceful land grabs by white folks in the first place. What an irony. What South African whites have to realize is that, their so called economic power will always be threatened as long as they do not rectify the wrongs that they did to the Africans in acquiring this wealth. It is better to resolve this matter now and once and for all. Zimbabwe had to face its past and it has not been so easy.

But the people got their land back.  There is nothing wrong in giving back African lands to the rightful African owners. Instead, there is something wrong for not doing that. The South African revolution that saw the fall of apartheid will not be complete until the land issue is squarely resolved.

Otika Okema is a columnist on African Affairs with The Black Star News. He maybe reached via email for interviews at p.okema@blackstarnews.com Remember  to subscribe to the newsstand edition by clicking on “subscribeâ€? on our homepage or calling (212) 481-7745 for the world’s favorite Pan-African news weekly. Remember “Speak Truth To Empower.â€?

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