‘Taking away our traditional land is neocolonialism’

Heritage: Contralesa says giving people title deeds may tempt them to sell land that ‘is a national asset and not for sale’. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

Heritage: Contralesa says giving people title deeds may tempt them to sell land that ‘is a national asset and not for sale’. (Rajesh Jantilal/AFP)

Traditional leaders have warned the ANC against expropriating land under their custodianship, saying it would be tantamount to “continuing the colonial agenda”.

The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) says that, although it supports the expropriation of land without compensation, the communal land they regard as being under black ownership and in public use should not be touched — as it is, they say, already in the hands of its rightful owners.

The body has requested a meeting with the ANC to have the governing party clarify its position on communal land rights. This follows the party’s resolution to have traditional leaders relinquish their custodianship of land and hand it to the government.

“An institution of traditional leadership is an organ of people’s authority and it predates colonial government and the apartheid regime. Therefore, the land that is under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders is not part of the land that was stolen by colonialists,” Contralesa general secretary Zolani Mkiva told the Mail & Guardian.

“The custodianship of land will never be taken away from traditional leaders.
That is the wish of colonialists and that is also the wish of the people who wish to continue the work of the colonialists.”

In May, the ANC held a consultative land summit, where it adopted a number of recommendations. One of them was to test section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with the expropriation of property, as it currently stands, before forging ahead with an amendment.

READ MORE: Ingonyama Trust debate rages: ‘The land needs to go back to the people’

The party did not, however, reach any conclusion on how expropriation and its renewed plans for redistribution would affect those living on communal land under the control of traditional leaders.

At present, the party wants the security of tenure over land to be extended to the individuals living on it. But it is still unclear what form the individual ownership would take, and the party said it would conduct further consultations to come up with a solution.

But traditional leaders have rejected what they say is the “individualisation” of land and said giving personal ownership rights to people would “open a can of worms”.

“We reject the issue of individual titles because that will be risking [that] our people [will] sell land. Land, according to our tradition and heritage, is not for sale. It’s a national asset,” Mkiva said.

“That one will open a can of worms. You are talking about people who do not have access to the economy. If they don’t have access to finance, what do you expect them to do [with the land]?”

But those advocating for traditional leaders to relinquish custodianship of the land argue that the current system benefits only certain individuals. Concerns have been raised about traditional leaders charging people fees to lease the land and sometimes entering into dubious agreements with mining companies without residents’ consent.

Traditional leaders played a pivotal part in the ANC’s formation in 1912 when, alongside religious organisations, they agreed to become allies of the party to fight specifically for the return of stolen land. Since 1994, the ANC has also relied heavily on traditional leaders during election campaigns.

Mkiva said he didn’t think the ANC had sold traditional leaders down the river but believed misunderstandings had arisen since the original agreement about land. “I don’t think the ANC has betrayed us. But we are waiting for that meeting to take place. We want to hold off from making public pronouncements until we find each other,” he said.

“If the ANC thinks that it [expropriation without compensation] also refers to communal land, then that will be blunderous and very dangerous for them to do. That can’t happen. And I trust the ANC isn’t referring to that land.”

The ANC has attempted to pacify unhappy traditional leaders by assuring them that further consultations will take place.

“The NEC noted that traditional leaders have always been part … [of] the struggle against colonialism and the formation of the ANC,” said party secretary general Ace Magashule following last week’s NEC meeting.

“Therefore, we are going to further engage our traditional leadership because, in terms of our strategy and tactics, they are part of the motive forces [allies in the liberation struggle],” he added.

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