I voted yes for land expropriation

In two weeks, I will be done with my four-month Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Studies Writing Fellowship, a partnership between the University of Johannesburg and the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Since moving to Nairobi in 2011, this is the longest period of time that I have been home. Although seeing family and friends more than I have recently been able to do was fun, perhaps the best part of being here was interacting with fellows and those who came to present seminars. The multidisciplinary nature of the fellowship ensured that I now know a bit more about basic education in Singapore (which has aspects that put our education programme to shame): cancers in Africa and their prevention and prevalence; the history of rugby; the history of the merchant class of South African Indians; and modern-day slavery in South Africa and elsewhere.

The seminar by Mbongiseni Buthelezi from the Public Affairs Research Institute on land reform in South Africa was enlightening. I learnt that, in 1994, 86% of land was white-owned. There had been an agreement that 30% would be transferred at least by 1999 at a rate of 6% a year.

Unfortunately, by 1999, only 1.2% of that land had been transferred. The shambles at the Deeds Officeresulted in many claims being lost and government incompetence was cited as the major reason this did not happen.

By 2010, the number of land transferred had risen to 16.7%. Our government shifted the 30% target to 2014 but, having failed to reach that target in 2014, it has now been shifted to 2025.

Information I knew, such as how traditional leaders constantly battle with local government over land issues, was confirmed.

Yet again I wondered why our democratic government saw fit to entrench apartheid-era roles by having traditional leaders in a post-1994 dispensation. This essentially means citizens living in places with traditional leaders may not have the same access to justice and equality as those in urban areas.

On the eve of the 1994 elections, the last president of the apartheid government, FW de Klerk, signed over land to the Ingonyama Trust. King Goodwill Zwelithini is the sole trustee. What rights, then, do those living on land under the trust have over their ancestral land?

And it goes beyond Kwazulu-Natal. In the platinum belt of North West, deals were done with mining companies. In some instances, the only beneficiaries are the chiefs, who became black economic empowerment partners.

And in urban areas, who can forget the measly R70 000 compensation our governments paid to families that had been forcibly removed? This money had to be shared by all family members. Assuming that a family consisted of four people, I would be curious to know where our government, even as far back as 1994, would have found a house that dignifies people who were forcibly removed costing R17 500?

It was towards the end of this presentation that the question of changing section 25 of the Constitution came up.

Someone in the audience stated that they believed this issue needed a quick resolution. Members of Parliament, said the audience member, had, on February 27 this year, brought our country untold problems by voting for expropriation of land without compensation.

This decision has put the country in limbo because external investors would not come into the country while there was uncertainty about land.

I could not help being amused because it is always those who are privileged who are worried about investors. I wished the audience member had shown as much empathy for his fellow citizens who had lost their homes because of the 1913 Land Act. I wished he had shown as much concern for those who were displaced because of the Group Areas Act.

Unfortunately, he is not alone in putting the rights of investors over those of citizens. Many African political leaders, including South Africa’s, have been known to be what one of my friends call izinduna for the West or the East at the expense of their fellow citizens.

I suspect that MPs in the governing party only voted “yes” to the land expropriation without compensation proposal because next year is an election year. Whatever their reasons, I for one decided to take advantage of the fact that they had said yes.

So last week, exercising participatory democracy on an issue that 
has bothered me since I read Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa, published in 1916, I voted yes for a review of section 25 of our Constitution, which will make it possible for the state to expropriate land without compensation.

I know it’s a small step and there are many steps to be taken before everything is finalised but I believed it was important for me to do it before I leave home.

In my mind, this was not just for those who were removed from their homes in 1913, those who were relegated to the Bantustans or those who were removed from urban areas. In my mind, it was for all these people and those who still suffer the spatial apartheid in places such as in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, where there is little room to breathe yet one man can have a large piece of land and claim it as his city.

I voted yes because I am tired of the myth that is class and racial equality in South Africa.

Zukiswa Wanner is a Johannesburg Institute of Advanced Studies Fellow

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Zukiswa Wanner
Zukiswa Wanner
Zukiswa Wanner (born 1976) is a South African journalist and novelist, born in Zambia and now based in Kenya. Since 2006, when she published her first book, her novels have been shortlisted for awards including the South African Literary Awards (SALA) and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.
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