The colonial mentality is manifestly prevalent in our country. Everywhere you look, you are confronted by evidence of this malady. And colonial mentality or, to put it another way, an inferiority complex, is an affliction that prevents people from behaving confidently and in their own interests.
I believe it is one of the factors contributing to our difficulties to succeed and progress.
How come, 20 years after the attainment of democracy, with political, legislative and executive powers in our hands, we are still singing songs about whites taking our land? Why don’t we use the power we have to right the wrong? It is excruciatingly painful to watch ourselves, more often than not led by our people in state executive authority, singing: Thina sizwe esimnyama/ Sikhalela izwe lethu/ Elathathwa ngamabhunu/ Maba wuyekele/ Umhlaba wethu … (We the black nation/ Are crying for our country/ That was taken by the Boers/ Let them leave it/ Our land …)
It is so jarring. Instead of using the power we have to correct the situation, we continue to wail and moan about our seized land.
There are those who say the singing of these melancholic melodies is merely a cultural expression, a reminder of where we come from, but this is patently untrue. Yes, we are known for our singing for every occasion but, ironically, therein lies the answer.
We have songs to express our sorrow about oppression, to rally us for war, to celebrate weddings and for funerals. Every song has a context. We don’t sing a funeral song at a wedding. Why would we sing about our seized land if the song does not express our feelings at this point in time? What are the masses supposed to do when their leaders cry and moan, instead of going about solving the problems?
And yet land seizure from Africans by the white colonialists is the main source of African poverty, powerlessness, misery and indignity. It explains why, rightly, all three liberation movements emphasised land restoration as an important goal of the struggle for freedom.
Hence the dismay and exasperation on the part of many of us with the lack of urgency over land reform.
After the attainment of democracy and accepting that there would be no seizure of power in South Africa by the liberation movement, the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) proposed three methods to advance land reform, which may be used in concert or separately.
First, it asserted that land expropriation with or without compensation should be pursued. There is nothing, except colonial mentality, stopping us from following this route. The Constitution provides for the expropriation of land to advance the national interest or common good.
Righting the wrongs of the past that continue to wound the majority of the population should be the noblest goal for a democratic government led by a liberation movement. This is so critical that we should not brook any obstacle to it. Even if the Constitution were a problem, we should not hesitate to amend it. After all, it was not made by God, but by us.
Second, those landowners who wish to sell their land to the state to advance land reform should be allowed to do so on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis. The state should evaluate the property and, all else being equal, acquire it.
Third, the state should impose a tax on land over a specified size and the proceeds should be used to pay for land for reform, especially for the willing-seller, willing-buyer option.
Colonialists did not pussyfoot around when it came to the question of land. They went straight for it, either directly through the barrel of a gun or through cohesive legislative measures. That created the current situation in which land ownership, occupation and utilisation, in both rural and urban areas, favours the white minority so unfairly. This has been an important element in the imbalance of wealth between black and white people for centuries.
One would have imagined that 20 years after democracy, the process of identifying black people who would like to farm on a large scale would have been fairly advanced. Such people would have been settled on suitable land and given all the assistance to succeed, as it is done all over the world.
That policy would have been pursued together with the sentimental one, where forcefully removed communities would be given their land back or financially compensated.
We are not alone in placing land at the centre of our struggle for freedom. The tragic conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is about land and nationhood – two sides of the same coin. The delay in land reform in Zimbabwe, which similarly centred its liberation struggle on land conquest, led to avoidable and unnecessary social and political strife. There are those among us who keep telling the nation that the Zimbabwe scenario will not occur in South Africa, but I fail to see why not, if we continue to drag our feet on land reform.
For twisted ideological reasons, the white minority regime provided poor education to black people. But black people are now in charge of the education system, in terms of the budget, administration and curriculum. Yet black children are now getting the worst education ever, not in terms of the curriculum or per capita spending, but in terms of effort and application by black adults.
To what would we ascribe this situation and attitude if not self-hate and a colonial mentality? We know black people can teach. They have taught many of us ably in the past under very difficult circumstances. But you will not do the best for your people if you have poor self-evaluation.
It is the same colonial mentality that gives us shocking horrors such as Marikana. The white minority found it easy and acceptable to massacre Africans every now and then, as they did in Sharpeville and Soweto. Ideologically and subliminally, they could justify it.
But what justification do we have for a black government massacring its own people? Neither the government nor the miners own the mines or the platinum produced there. But the workers’ own government, through the police, mowed them down with automatic weapons, while the owners of the mines are sitting pretty somewhere abroad, completely safe.
Can any of us imagine the British police massacring British mineworkers with machine guns over a South African-owned mine? It is unthinkable. They would not do it even over a British-owned mine. That is not their mentality. They do not find the lives of their people so expendable.
It is clear we have a deep-seated psychological problem that prevents us from valuing ourselves, our people and our interests. We are a middle-income country that is blessed with considerable natural resources. If we were to use these to provide our nation with a proper and credible education system, medical care and other such services, we would be much further than we are now.
Mosibudi Mangena is a former Azapo president and Cabinet minister. This is an edited extract from his new book, Triumphs and Heartaches: A Courageous Journey by South African Patriots, published by Picador Africa