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From South Africa To Zimbabwe, It’s Army Of Landless Blacks

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Many years after the colonialists laid siege to Africa, much of the continent is still grappling with its legacies. The sojourn of the colonial lords as evident in their exploitative adventure had a central theme of resources rape and economic exploitation. They shared out the wealth and prosperity of their hosts without batting an eyelid. Part of the resources expropriated was land and its inherent natural endowments of gold, copper, diamonds and oil. Through the laws enacted by them, they sent the natives to the rural landscapes and took ownership of the cities. However, at the moment, a portion of the black continent is revisiting its past with a view to rewriting its history of inequality, injustice and poverty tied to land asymmetry.

In South Africa where apartheid held sway for several years, the first war waged by the European colonial settlers was against land. In stripping South Africa of its land resources, the Union of South Africa Act 1909 was introduced: a British colonial law that stratified an egalitarian society along racial lines. According to an article in New African Magazine, Land is Money, Power and Freedom, written by Dr. Motsoko Pheko, the act led the way for the passage of the Native Land Act of 1931 which allocated 7% of the black country’s land to more than five million Africans and 93% to 349,837 white settlers, which is a clear case of forcibly taking away a man’s property by an uninvited visitor without remorse.

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After the uneven land order, the racial gulf became widened and filled with palpable tensions. Several protests were passed up in streets locally and internationally as a defiant pose against an apartheid system that espoused race above human dignity. Notable figures in South Africa’s history like Nelson Mandela,Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, among others, put on the garments of freedom fighters. The young and old marched resolutely on the white man’s edifice of intimidation and force. In the struggle which lasted for years, thousands were imprisoned and scores killed in the most brutal way known to history. Ever green in the memories of South Africans are the Sharpeville massacre, the Cape Town violence against children in 1980 as well as the unforgettable little Bernard Fortuin, 10, who was shot dead on the streets of Elsies River and whose distressed mother, in an attempt to talk to her dying son, was shoved away with the butts of guns belonging to the apartheid policemen who committed the murder.

Mandela and his comrades were armed with the knowledge that land ownership is inextricably tied to economic control as whoever controls the land takes charge of the country’s wealth. The implementation of the Native Land Act signalled the beginning of the current travails of native South Africans who daily battle the scourge of poverty, unemployment and proliferation of vices as they have little or no land to farm and create wealth. From land owners, the settlers became the economy shot callers. The screaming word which intermittently graces the global media space and made prominent by native South Africans, xenophobia, is a deep-seated anger which has its root in the long-winded and rancorous interactions between the natives and the settlers.

Over the years in the rainbow nation, the disadvantaged black South Africans have had their lips dripping with the expropriation mantra. They have both in principles and actions registered protestations against seemingly unaddressed disproportionate land order. They have always wanted a country not just in a manner of speaking but the one in which they have stable economic security. To them, freedom goes beyond casting the ballots, waving flag and singing the national anthem but effective control of the economy. Regrettably, successive governments in the country have not recorded much success in the area of land redistribution.

It was Nelson Mandela’s government in 1994 that began enacting legislations to address land redistribution, restitution and land tenure reform. The process has, however, been hamstrung by mistrust between government and current owners of land resulting in litigations, ridiculously exorbitant land prices, and government’s lack of funds to finance the process together with fear about possible backlash that such move will have on its foreign relations, food security and economy. Those oppose to land reform in South Africa often allude to the Zimbabwe example where land expropriation ravaged the economy as commercial farm land were handed to incompetent hands who underutilized them. It is believed that white people who make up just about 9% of the population in the rainbow nation, own 72% of the farmland that is held by individuals.

Despite the hassles faced by the South African government regarding land reform, the blacks are desperately in need of land to farm in commercial quantity, build decent houses and bury their dead. They are gearing up to have a better share of their country’s commonwealth now than ever. The prominent opposition figure Julius Malema and his far-left populist party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are leading the push for a change in the status quo.

Malema’s cause has become the dream of many blacks in South Africa and this buttresses his rapidly growing stock of adherents. To avoid total loss of the goodwill of many blacks whose hope and confidence in the ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s ability to rework the land regime, are sliding downwards and also ward off the potent political threat posed by the EFF, former President Jacob Zuma while in office made some policy statements about the land issue. He announced that foreigners would no longer be allowed to become owners of land just as he said no farmer in the country would own more than one farm of which size would not be more than 12000 hectares, among other reform measures. If his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, made good Zuma’s statement, black farmers might end up owning land and becoming successful farmers, thereby reducing unemployment among black folks. This will also to some extent thaw the racial tension and bad blood between the minority whites and majority blacks. Beyond farming, blacks need land for other purposes and this explains why the Jacob Zuma government was willing to acquire more land from their owners at fair prices as determined by the Valuer General he appointed while in office. Zuma thought this may work better than the willing buyer-willing seller arrangement that has left land prices hitting the roof. It is on record that South Africa, relying on the willing buyer-willing seller principle, has spent a whopping $3.2 billion on land reform programme between 1994 and 2013 with little achievements.

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa on assumption of office also expressed his support for land expropriation by setting up a presidential panel which later proposed expropriation of land without compensation but in limited circumstances, mainly land used for speculative purposes, unused and vacant land. The ANC, in an attempt to limit the influence of the EFF, is also pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow land expropriation without compensation. Worried about the impact such amendment could have on foreign investments, AfriForum, a white-centric organisation, has warned that investors’ confidence in the country as an investment destination would be badly affected. Some agricultural economists in the country have equally highlighted the consequences of arbitrary takeover of people’s land, particularly farmers whose outputs feed the nation and whose sector offers jobs to many South Africans. If the constitutional amendment pulls through in parliament, it remains to be seen who the final beneficiaries of the targeted land would be. Will it get into the hands of the actual people who need the land for productive ventures or some government cronies?

Another African country that suffers similar fate as South Africa is Namibia; its method of reform is anchored on two strategies: resettlement and transfer. Namibia’s land issue stemmed from its contact with the Europeans in 1884 when it became part of the German territory. The new visitors, who came to the Southern African country mainly to strip it of its natural rights, concluded to invest in mining and agriculture.

Land was sold to them at ridiculously low prices. Slow but steadily, the natives were pushed out of their ancestral land to give way to the white man’s expansionist drive in agriculture. Years that followed witnessed the emergence of a landless African people whose rights to own what originally belonged to them came under strict regulations and the goggled eyes of the white authorities.

Namibia’s independence in March 1990 was a glimmer of hope that faded as soon as it was granted. It was a freedom to choose at the polls not liberty to live in choice places and engage in meaningful economic ventures. The country’s democratic and free status came with sad reality of lopsided land order and a growing economy loyal to the Europeans. At the time about 42% of agricultural lands were under the minority white farmers’ control who used them judiciously for livestock farming while 90% of the native population scrambled for about 40%. Given the harsh and invidious customary tenure systems and financial hassles, Namibians could not tap into the agricultural potentialities offered by their natural resource of land. They are largely subsistence farmers. The white population till date control all aspects of the Namibian economy from production to consumption but nothing much has improved for the ordinary people. Pitiably, just like the sickening and degrading quality of the lives of local South Africans, Namibians regard underdevelopment, poverty and hungry population as integral features of Africa’s snail-paced development.

Many of those who participated in the struggle to free Namibia from the German colonialists did so with the land issue as stimulating factor. Before Namibia’s first democratic election in 1989, the liberation movement leader, South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) had committed itself to transferring land from those who had enough to an army of landless blacks who constitute the majority. The resettlement strategy sees government buying farms from commercial farmers through willing buyer-willing seller principle and allocates them to previously disadvantaged people. What used to be one farm now plays host to many families. It is highly instructive to add that the land being sold to government comes at very high prices but of low quality.

Beyond the willing buyer-willing seller principle, the government of Namibia in 2005 resorted to expropriation of commercial farms which had claimed only five farms in 2008 with more to go. Of the 35 million hectares of arable farm land in Namibia, it is expected that by 2020 the target 15 million hectares of commercial farms or 43% would have been transferred to blacks for resettlement and agricultural purposes. As of 2015, 27% of the total agricultural land has been transferred. This obviously indicates that the land transfer program is quicker in Namibia than in South Africa as the former has transferred about 9.4 million hectares out of 15 million while the latter has achieved less than 7 million out of the target 24.5 million. Since land issue in South Africa is an emotive subject, fast tracking the process is a recipe for peace and stability in the country.

The forcible manner by which the Zimbabweans were dispossessed of their natural right to land by the white sellers was akin to South Africa’s and Namibia’s. Through the ‘sunset clauses’ in the ‘Lancaster House Agreement’ which was birthed after a protracted liberation struggle that led to an independent and democratic country, the minority white settlers successfully protected and preserved the large swaths of land which they dubiously acquired during the heyday of British colonial sojourn in former Rhodesia. The agreement brokered by the British government gave special protections to the white settlers by prohibiting the then new democratic government of Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) from initiating any land reform for the first ten years of the country’s independence.

Determined to live up to his pledge of land redistribution, Robert Mugabe’s administration in 2000 initiated Zimbabwe’s Fast Track Land Reform Programme (FTLRP) through which it carried out several reforms which made his fellow Zimbabweans owners of land and gave a new lease of life to black farmers. However, his seizure of land from some commercial white farmers sparked international condemnations and heavy sanctions from donor nations. The drawback of this action was suffusing economic meltdown and food crisis which are consequent upon the underutilization of the seized farm land by the black beneficiaries. Critics of his action accused him of politicizing the land reform, premising their view on the claim that the land was handed to his political allies who had neither the requisite equipment nor adequate training for farming in an agriculture-based economy. More than 4,000 white commercial farmers were evicted from their farms, leaving fewer than 300 who were dairy farmers as dairy products contribute significantly to the economy of Zimbabwe. Surprisingly, for the first time in many years, former President Mugabe’s government later admitted the flaws in his land reform programme. He was once quoted by Zimbabwe’s state-owned Herald newspaper to have decried gross underutilization of the farm land which stood at one third. However, President Emerson Mnangagwa’s administration approach to land reform contrasts ideologically with Mugabe’s. He believes land ownership shouldn’t be determined by skin colour but one’s ability to productively utilize farm land to produce for export. Mnangagwa’s position likely came from lessons drawn from the dire economic drawbacks of Mugabe’s controversial land reform, economy is not run by sheer nationalism but diligent engagement in value-added activities. It is surely not driven by skin colour. However, blacks who have shown capacity to harness their country’s agriculture potential should have unhindered access to land in Zimbabwe.

Notwithstanding the pace of the land reform across the three African countries, the determination of the African people to rightly claim what belongs to them after years of neglect and inhumane dispossession stands out. Reclaiming the lost and hijacked land is similar to returning the dignity and humanness of the African people. However, as regards the redistributed commercial farms, the governments of these countries must ensure that land is given out to people who have modern infrastructure and knowledge base to harness the potential of agriculture sector in Africa. In addition, land lying fallow should be taken away from unproductive hands and handed to competent and tested farmers. It should be stated that how committed Africa is to the training and retraining of its people to excel in agriculture and other fields will determine the success or otherwise of its war against poverty, wants and unemployment in the continent.

Thompson Taiwo is a broadcast journalist. He can be reached on Twitter @thompson_taiwo

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