See land issue for what it really is

For the past 100 years the land question has been at the centre of the bitter struggles waged by blacks against white minority rule following the Land Act of 1913 and later the Group Areas Act.

The land question is, therefore, a sensitive issue and should be handled with the utmost care because it has the potential to cause civil war and racial polarisation. Our immediate neighbours are a case in point.

The liberation of Zimbabwe from British rule was negotiated at Lancaster House in 1979 under the British foreign secretary, Lord Carrington. During the talks, Zimbabwean freedom fighters made several concessions to the British, which included the land question. The parties agreed to follow a gradual approach to the issue of land redistribution rather than a radical approach of land seizures.

But, more than 10 years later, little had happened and for many years the land question remained a dream deferred in Zimbabwe. When his rule came under threat, President Robert Mugabe, therefore, used land to unleash terror and violence against his own people and political opponents demanding change; many of those have since crossed the border to South Africa in search of better living conditions.

It is against this background that we find the statement by Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Pieter Mulder that Africans have no claim to 40% of South Africa as grossly inappropriate and ill-considered. Mulder’s nonsense will resonate with the ultra-right-wing groups who believe that they are under siege under the black-led government.

Although they are a minority, our feature story on pages 24 and 25 is illustrative that there are people still trying to cause racial strife and, preparing militarily for such an eventuality. If he is not careful, Mulder could reinforce the fears and insecurity of these right-wing militants.

Former president Nelson Mandela’s enduring legacy is one of reaching out to Afrikaners to the extent that, at some point, it even antagonised his ANC supporters. He worked hard to accommodate Afrikaners and embrace them.

Mulder is a member of the executive not on merit, but in yet another effort to represent the interest of Afrikaners who do not truly feel part of the Rainbow Nation. Mulder should, in representing them, articulate their concerns, but he must also remember the pain and hurt of the ‘Bantu-speaking people”. He must remember this is 2012.

However, it would be a shame if we were to waste our Mulder moment. We should use it to reflect on why the issue of land has again been raised and why it evokes such emotion among all of us. The land reform process as driven by the government has been slow in South Africa and has even led some in the ANC and society at large to argue for the expropriation of land without compensation, because the willing-buyer and willing-seller option has not been the best way to address land redistribution.

Mulder’s diatribe deflects from the real issue. We should be asking why land restitution is happening at such a slow pace and also why those who have been resettled are battling to use the land beneficially. This is not the time to entertain fire starters such as Mulder and his ilk. If the ANC fails to take the correct decisions about land reform and redistribution at its policy conference in June, we will all suffer inevitably.

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