A raucous exchange over who stole whose land led to the eviction of EFF MPs from Parliament – after which ANC leaders took up their fight.
The burning issue of land reform in South Africa was brought into sharp focus on Wednesday, with embarrassing consequences for Parliament, when a debate about the budget for land reform quickly degenerated into a debate about land theft.
As Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti worked his way through the department’s budget, the mood in the National Assembly grew darker, with rumblings coming from the Economic Freedom Fighters’s (EFF’s) red corner and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) nearby.
In his speech, Nkwinti affirmed some of the controversial land reform proposals that he had informally announced earlier this year. But matters boiled over when members of the EFF and FF+, the two parties at opposite extremes on the issue, clashed over whether land had been stolen and by whom. EFF MPs Andile Mngxitama and Hlengiwe Maxon were subsequently thrown out of the chamber for referring to the FF+‘s Pieter Groenewald as a land thief and accusing white people of stealing land.
In his speech, Groenewald responded by claiming that black Africans were the ones who had stolen land from the Khoi and the San.
It was not the first time, and probably not the last either, that Mngxitama and Groenewald have butted heads over the land debate.
Fisticuffs on the steps of Parliament
In June, the two had to be restrained from beginning a fistfight outside the Assembly.
Mngxitama had earlier that day interjected during FF+ leader Pieter Mulder’s speech, asking: “When are you returning? You stole our land.”
Nkwinti said government will push ahead with plans to give farmworkers and dwellers security of tenure and to protect communal tenure to enable beneficiaries of reform to hold on to land.
Nkwinti said the two principles were essential to the state’s accelerated land reform drive and were enshrined in Bills that would soon be introduced in Parliament.
He revealed that five new pieces of legislation will be tabled in Parliament, among them the Registration of Land Holdings Bill, which will provide for “regulation of land ownership by foreign nationals”.
Nkwinti said he was committed to expediting new expropriation legislation and limiting foreign ownership.
In response, Mngxitama criticised the reopening of the land claim period, saying it all boiled down to paying for land that had been stolen by white people from the rightful owners, who are black.
Mngxitama charged that land reform involved taking taxpayers’ money to buy stolen property and therefore promoted “illegality”. He said the “madness” of reopening the land restitution claims was about giving money and more looting to rural elites. “Why are we buying back our stolen property?”
The EFF is calling for the expropriation of land without compensation for equitable redistribution. It proposes that all land should be transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state.
Mngxitama also warned the government about chiefs and kings who are making land claims on behalf of their subjects.
“We are pushing our people back to divisions and Difaqane [Mfecane]. Every black person in this country who is landless must get land not because of their tribal council but because they are landless,” he said.
The drama began when Groenewald was delivering his address, which he gave in Afrikaans. In it, he agreed with Mngxitama that reopening land claims was a mistake – but that’s where the agreements ended.
Groenewald said black Africans had stolen land from the Khoi and the San, to which ANC MP Mandla Mandela raised a point of order saying: “The honourable member is distorting our history.”
Mngxitama quickly followed by saying: “This man is lying; the Khoi are black Africans.”
Offence and accusations
Groenewald responded: “You get some people whose arrogance exceeds their intelligence. I will ignore that”.
Mngxitama was not done. He rose on another point of order: “This man’s lies offend me, chair,” he said.
ANC MP Jackson Mthembu, who was presiding over the session and was clearly not coping, tried without luck to intervene.
Maxon asked Mthembu: “Please help us. What do you say? What is parliamentary when someone is lying?”
Groenewald jumped in and offered “to give you free education and a workshop as well”.
This angered Mngxitama. “Since when are these people who are land thieves going to continue disrespecting us. A minority who comes here and tells us he can give us free education when you’ve stolen our land. He has no right to be here,” he shouted.
Mthembu ruled that Mngxitama’s language was “unparliamentary” and instructed him to withdraw his statement that Groenewald was a thief. But Mngxitama wouldn’t and was evicted from the Assembly.
What’s the point?
Maxon rose on a point of order about “this thief”, referring to Groenewald. She too was ordered to leave the House.
Mandela continued the EFF fight after its MPs were thrown out. He called on Mthembu to rule on Groenewald’s statement that black people had stolen land and take into consideration what the EFF MPs had said.
“It cannot be accepted in this House and this country that black people have stolen land,” he said.
After arguing against an order to withdraw the statement, Groenewald eventually conceded and in a raised voice said: “Black people did not steal any land but whites also didn’t steal any land. That’s the point.”