The battle cry for land is spreading


The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) dominates the political landscape with vigour and vivacity that extends far beyond its size, and has done so since its inception. It makes it hard to remember that there was a time when Julius Malema, the commander-in-chief of the EFF, was weak and vulnerable.

But there was, at the end of his career in the ANC Youth League in mid-2012, and before he founded his new radical party in 2013. There was a time when he was fighting for his very existence.

It was in these moments, as he battled to keep his place in the ruling party despite multiple disciplinary rulings and suspensions, that he uttered the great paradox of the ANC’s narrative of liberation and democracy. Having been charged for (in part) comments made at rallies that characterised the entire white population as land thieves, he complained that he couldn’t understand why this was a problem because the ANC had taught him that white people came here and stole the land from black people.

The ANC has long had to balance this tension between a narrative of colonial injustice and violent dispossession and a political hegemony that tempers calls for justice based on its own historical analysis. As recently as 2013, the centenary of the Native Lands Act, the party reasserted that narrative through its spokesperson at the time, Jackson Mthembu.

“This Act,” Mthembu said in a statement, “whose crippling legacy is still with us today, effectively gave right to 80% of the land to the white minority who accounted for less than 20% of the population and legal effect to years of violent dispossession of land of the African majority during the colonial wars. Consequently, the Natives Land Act robbed blacks in general and Africans in particular of their birth right and ensured their deliberate impoverishment through the destruction of competitive African farming and eradication of the surplus producing African peasantry which ensured food security for many of our people.”

Malema continues to suffer for asserting this historical analysis, albeit with more force than his former political parent body does.

On Wednesday, he appeared before the Newcastle magistrate’s court in a case brought by the Afrikaner nationalist lobby group AfriForum for comments he made in June, where he said: “If you see a piece of land, don’t apologise. If you like it go and occupy that land. That land belongs to us.”

Malema has a long history of this kind of antagonism:

  • In April 2010, following a visit to Zimbabwe, the youth league released a statement saying: “The indigenisation and economic empowerment policies constitute a very brave, militant but very correct methods of transferring wealth from the minority to the majority.”
  • In May 2011, he told a crowd at Galeshwe near Kimberley that: “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”
  • In June 2011, he told a provincial meeting of the youth league: “Willing-buyer, willing-seller is not an alternative … The alternative from the youth league is that we take the land without paying. That is what we are proposing.”
  • Outside the Newcastle magistrate’s court this week he said, “We will take our land no matter how. It’s becoming unavoidable, it’s becoming inevitable.”

In the last five years or so, the ANC’s hegemonic hold on the black body politic has begun to slip. Malema drove a wedge between himself and the rest of the ANC by loudly and repeatedly insisting that it should adopt a policy of land redistribution without compensation (after all, you don’t pay a thief to retrieve your stolen property).

He also demanded the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy, including the mines and the banks. This was in spite of several senior ANC leaders frantically reassuring foreign investors and the private sector that this wouldn’t happen.

In essence, the ANC was cornered into becoming the gatekeepers of a deeply unsatisfactory status quo, in which unemployment, education, skills, land ownership, wealth ownerships and access to opportunities continues to be skewed along racial lines. Malema made the point that his real target wasn’t Jacob Zuma – it was the white monopoly capital the president was safekeeping.

There is a misconception, popular among right-wing columnists and the think tanks they work for, that “obsession with land” is a populist ploy by urban elites. Far from it. By far the most extensive land claims have come from tribal authorities.

In 2014, the Ingonyama Trust announced it was planning to launch, on behalf of King Goodwill Zwelithini and amakhosi of the various Zulu tribes and clans, the biggest land claim ever – all of the land that the Zulu kingdom claimed in 1838. This would encompass most of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of the Eastern Cape and Free State.

At the time, the leaders of the Hlubi, Rharhabe, Thembu and abakwaNxamalala were planning on filing similarly extravagant claims.

Just this past week, the Gauteng regional land claims commissioner published in the Government Gazette a claim by Bakwena ba Mare-a-Phogole for the restitution of historical lands over most of southern Johannesburg, parts of the Vaal and Ekurhuleni. The claim covers more than 1 000 portions of state and privately-owned stretches of land. This encompasses urban land too. The public now has 60 days to comment. According to the clan’s committee chairman, Jacob Ngakane, their claim is supported by three academic works.

“We have three universities which documented our historical presence in the south of Johannesburg, parts of Ekurhuleni and Sedibeng,” he told The Sowetan.

In recent years, South Africa has experienced a new surge in Black Consciousness ideology, espoused by unemployed people’s movements, landless people’s movements, breakaway trade unions and loosely-organised student formations such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall. The question of land is not about managing redistribution but rather a return to the demand for immediate redistribution to right a historical injustice. Despite many efforts, not in the least the loosing of the dogs of state repression, the ANC has failed to contain these movements.

In 2016, credentials are no longer dependent on a history of anti-apartheid struggle. Land, land, land is the cry. As a proxy for the failures of the democratic state, it is powerful and evocative. It lends itself to a thousand easily-digestible slogans. How can we educate our children if we have no land? How can we have economic freedom without land? How can the final sentence of the national anthem be true without the land?

Land is the symbol of South Africa’s poor progress in addressing the wrongs of apartheid.

The Riotous Assemblies Act – a useful relic

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema’s latest court travail comes courtesy of the Riotous Assemblies Act of 1956, a law which sought to “consolidate the laws relating to riotous assemblies and the prohibition of the engendering of feelings of hostility between the European and non-European inhabitants of the Union”, according to its own preamble.

It was enacted presumably in response to the 1955 gathering of more than 3 000 multiracial peoples to adopt the Freedom Charter. It was then used to imprison thousands of anti-apartheid demonstrators and activists.

According to the O’Malley Archives, now housed at the Nelson Mandela Centre for Memory, the Act featured prominently in the Rivonia Treason Trial. Some 156 people “were arrested on treason charges for having attended the Congress and signed the Freedom Charter”.

The Act further allowed the government to punish (even through banishment) anyone, or ban any “documentary information” which was deemed to cause hostility between black and white people. It also punished acts that presumably brought the races together, such as the meeting to adopt the Charter.

Unlike the Immorality Act, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, the Bantu Education Act and other legal building blocks of apartheid, the Riotous Assemblies Act still applies and has been quoted in court cases, such as S vs Booi and Others in September this year.

Malema plans to challenge the constitutionality of the Riotous Assemblies Act.


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