/ 10 June 2019

Black people must be free to articulate their anger at the theft of their land

The equality court recently found that the slogan “Land or Death” is hate speech.
The equality court recently found that the slogan “Land or Death” is hate speech. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)


It becomes clearer every day that black people in South Africa remain tenants in their country of birth. Our expressions and actions, however genuine, must not contradict the sensibilities of white people, otherwise there will be consequences.

The equality court recently found that the slogan “Land or Death” is hate speech. This slogan was used by the pro-black organisation, Black First Land First (BLF). The court further recommended that possible criminal proceedings be instituted against the BLF and its leader, Andile Mngxitama.

This judgment is nonsensical and anti-black. It is disappointing to see that institutions created to address the injustice of apartheid still reinforce the oppression and silencing of black people, who continue to suffer even today.

Antonio Gramsci gives us important lessons in his Prison Notebooks. He alerts us to what is called the “third force of power”, which is civil society. Institutions such as the equality court belong to civil society. In a bourgeois state, civil society has a tendency of reproducing existing class relations and concealing contradictions.

In South Africa the majority of those who control the means of production are white people and, therefore, their interests are largely represented by this sphere. This happens because the ruling class has hegemony and, therefore, their ideas and beliefs are always reproduced.

This explains why the equality court ruled that the slogan “Land or Death” is hate speech. Here we can see that the ruling is a representation of those who have influence in our country and whose feelings and fears are prioritised.

The literal interpretation of the slogan has nothing to suggest that it is hate speech. The first thing that you asks yourself is: Hate against whom? This is because the slogan does not explicitly say death to whom.

Legally speaking, the element of imminence is lacking, which is an important element in determining whether there is a threat of violence. So, the decision by the equality court deserves an appeal because legally it has no real basis.

But beyond this, we see that black views are always censored. Which is to say that whatever things black people say or declare are always measured against whether they upset the sensibilities of white people. This is quite clear because white people have voiced their discomfort with the slogan and BLF as an organisation on numerous occasions.

The effect of this judgment will be that, as black people, we will have to measure our expressions in terms of whether they offend white people. This means that white people must approve everything that we say and, if they do not, our expressions will be criminalised. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Land is the essence of life. Frantz Fanon tells us that it not only gives us bread, but also our dignity. Without bread we perish and without dignity we lose our humanness. These things presuppose that without our land we are as good as dead. So is this not “Land or Death”? Did the equality court even consider this interpretation? I doubt it.

What we must always remember is that, in South Africa, black people live in death-bound conditions because they do not own the land. That is why places such as Alexandra, Khayelitsha and Tjovitjo still exist.

White people continue to own most of the land in South Africa. Do we then not consistently remind the people that without our land we are as good as dead just because a couple of sensitive white racists will be offended? I do not think so.

If we remember the unjust wars of colonialism we will know that, at the core of those wars, was the question of land. The colonisers used brute force and violence. For them it was not just a slogan but they committed the act of killing. For them land or death was not just a metaphorical statement but they took it to its logical conclusion and killed black people for their own land.

This is not to suggest that black people must also go on a rampage and murder white people, but we must be able to agitate and expose our people to particular ideals in ways we see fit.

Remember, Steve Biko teaches us not to allow those who oppress us to determine the ways in which we respond to their oppression. “Land or Death” is a slogan to capture the imagination of our people. It is a cry to remind them that we are not yet free. We should not allow our call for emancipation to be criminalised.

Mcebo Dlamini is a former president of the students’ representative council at the University of the Witwatersrand