(Written 21 Feb 2012)
A hot topic in South African news over the last week or so has been the question of land restitution – a process through which the wrongs wrought by the iniquitous land policies of South Africa’s past were to be corrected. At the time of South Africa’s liberation (1992), it was recognised by all clear-thinking persons, including many in the ANC, that a sensible outcome to the efforts at land restitution was crucial to the long-term success of the country. Indeed, it was recognised that without some steady, tangible progress in land restitution this problem would become insoluble by peaceful means and a Zimbabwe style land-grab would be on the cards. To deal with this crucial task the principle of ‘willing buyer – willing seller’ was agreed; a special department was established within government; and plenty of money was provided by the State. Immediately the wheels of bureaucracy began to grind very slowly.
Now, if there is anyone foolish enough to share the land ownership view of South Africa’s current deputy-minister of agriculture, Pieter Mulder of the ‘Freedom Front Plus’, then I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy of Charles van Onselen’s, The Seed is Mine: The Life of Kas Maine, a South African Sharecropper, (1894-1985), New York: Hill & Wang, 1996, and read it very carefully. The effects of racial discrimination by the English, the Afrikaners, the Land Act of 1913, the Marketing Act of 1937 and the slew of Apartheid legislation are all laid bare in this man’s life in a way that cannot be countered by bland claims of white ownership over two or three generations, or an astonishingly silly argument as to whether Herry de Strandloper was black or coloured. Once you have read this book you will understand why black people in South Africa cheer Robert Mugabe (in spite of what he has done to the people of Zimbabwe) and you will understand why the not-too-well-informed youth think that Julius Malema is a saviour able to restore to them the idea of ‘their land’.
Almost as an aside, I must point out I had recently suggested that Jacob Zuma had never said anything I would bother to quote, but in parliament on the 16th February 2012 all that changed. While absolutely flattening Mulder, Zuma cautioned, “The land question is one of the most emotive issues in our history and present, and must be handled with utmost care.”
So, what progress has the ANC-led government and its relevant department made in this all-important work; this crucial task that has to be handled with utmost care? As it happens, the details are presently being revealed to the South African Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) and it tells a tale of betrayal of the South African people by the present government as sad as the betrayal of Kas Maine by previous administrations. A look at the performance of those responsible for land restitution in the new South Africa reveals incompetence, waste and corruption on a scale beyond the imagination of ordinary people. In fact, the handling of this “most emotive issue” by the ANC-led government can only be described as an abject failure. (I cannot think of a stronger phrase.)
But the saddest part is yet to come. The saddest part of the story is that the administration of Jacob Zuma will do nothing about this failure! Sure there will be a bit of hand-wringing; already the director general Mdu Shabane is reported to have said that this is “embarrassing”. Some promises will be made but the cadres will cover for one another and before you know it, the matter of the missing millions will have blown over and the administrators’ hands will be back in the cookie jar. All the while the people of South Africa, like Kas Maine, will continue to be betrayed. Eish, what wouldn’t we give to have honest men in government?