12 March 2018

South Africa: Government Has Slept While Land Questions Languished, Scoffs Ngcukaitobi

Photo: South African Tourism/Flickr
A farmhouse in Free State, South Africa (file photo).

If the political will to implement land expropriation without compensation was determined by timing, the government's latest motion shows that they are either unwilling to do it or have been asleep for the past 24 years.

This is according to Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who spoke to students at the University of Cape Town during a debate on Parliament's motion to investigate the expropriation of land without compensation on Friday evening.

The question entered the constitutional realm when last month the National Assembly adopted a motion to investigate constitutional amendments to allow expropriation without compensation. This was a motion introduced by the Economic Freedom Fighters and amended by the African National Congress. The two parties joined forces to ensure the motion is adopted.

Ngcukaitobi told the students that to understand what chance the land question had of being addressed, it was important to understand that land was not merely an economic asset or a place where people live and produced. He said the deprivation of land by the past regime was "the debasement of people's identity".

"Minister [Gugile] Nkwinti has been speaking on 1962 and only realised in 2018 that something must actually be done. A president championed a campaign of radical economic transformation towards what became the end of his career but for nine years presided over dysfunctional land claims and dysfunctional land claim mechanisms," said Ngcukaitobi.

When addressing the concerns that property would be conflated along with land if government were to expropriate it, Ngcukaitobi said the first secretary general of the ANC Sol Plaatje and journalist Richard Msimang wrote extensively on how land dispossession also robbed black people of property, including livestock and tenure.

"They [Plaatje and Msimang] found that 1913 was not the beginning but the culmination of disposition of the current political, social and economic realities of black South Africa. It did not begin it, but served as a frozen point in the program that had been advancing over years.

"The land dispossession cannot be understood in the wider context. The property that comes as a consequence of land ownership was also compromised. If you go from owning 5 hectares of land and 50 cows to half an acre, what happens to the cows you used to own? This is characterised by Msimang's writings as a theft of livestock," he said.

Ngcukaitobi said resistance of land owners to expropriation was a stumbling block to addressing land dispossession even when leaders of colonialists governments in South Africa sought to have the issue addressed.

"Louis Botha told [the first ANC president] John Langalibalele Dube that he would convene a commission of inquiry to investigate the possibility of giving natives more land. The commission failed completely, shifting the ownership patterns by one percent.

"Jan Smuts would later go on to make it clear that his vision for SA was that it be a white man's country. [Another ANC president, Alfred] Xuma suggested that they discuss ways of introducing a bill of rights and Smuts dismissed the idea as wildly unrealistic," he added.


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