“THIS is the land of the black people.”
“Land expropriation without compensation is not enough. White people need to pay black people for profiting off their land all these years. Not only must there be land expropriation without compensation, but they need to pay us for how their families benefited while ours suffered.”
This sentiment was repeated several times when the parliamentary review committee was in Vryheid last Wednesday to listen to oral submissions on whether section 25 of the constitution should be amended to allow for land expropriation without compensation.
Cecil Emmett hall, where the talks took place, was full to capacity well before 11am, when the event was scheduled to begin, but hundreds of people remained outside the gate waiting for an opportunity to have their voices heard.
As more and more people took to the podium to offer their view, it became clear that, land expropriation without compensation is not new to South Africa. This is how things were done for years. Despite 24-years of democracy, the wounds of apartheid are still raw and bitterness and anger are rife.
Horror stories unfolded throughout the day, as the parliamentary review committee heard how black farmers who had settled on a piece of land, were suddenly regarded as squatters with the passing of the ‘The Squatters Act’ in 1895, ‘The Land Settlement Act’ in 1912, and the ‘Natives Land Act’ in 1913.
“My grandfather was a cattle farmer who was told that the land now belonged to a white farmer. He was allowed to live on the land as long as he worked on the farm. He was not paid a wage. Being allowed to continue living on the farm was considered sufficient compensation for working on the farm. One day, the farmer killed my grandfather’s cows saying that the cattle were trespassing on the farmer’s grazing land. We had one mud house for 20 people in our family. We were starving, while the white farmer made a profit from our land. I support land expropriation without compensation,” said one resident.
“We are not asking for our land. We are demanding our land. It is our land,” said another.
Black people who opposed the amendment of Section 25 were robustly booed by the crowd.
“You had 24 years to address land reform,” said local politician and activist, Sbu Nkosi, addressing the parliamentarians. “What did you do in 24 years? Now that your power has been shaken, and people are challenging your power, you have raised a very important and critical issue that touches emotion. You want to make people emotional so that you can stick to power. I support land reform but I do not support the amendment of section 25. There is no need to change the constitution. Paragraph 8 of that very section is very clear that you can expropriate if there is a need to do so.
A speaker, who identified himself as a member of the Khoisan leadership (considered the truly indigenous people of South Africa) also voiced his disapproval of land expropriation without compensation.
“We are the first people of the country and we need to be involved in any decisions about land. We believe that stakeholders working together is the only thing that will fast track land reform. Those who need to secure rights to land need to work together with the land owners and find social solutions to historic and contentious issues around landlessness,” he said.
White farmers feared that simply handing over the land would be catastrophic to the economy and to food security.
A farmer representing Dumbe said the agricultural sector in his area employed more than 1350 people and paid more than R3.7million a month in salaries.
“We also pay our rates and taxes, and if our property is taken away, SARS will suffer. The people who depend on grants will suffer,” he said.
A representative of a local legal firm, pointed out three reasons why land reform was not working, “Firstly, land reform has been poorly implemented by inexperienced, corrupt and incompetent officials. Secondly, the budget for land reform has been insufficient. Thirdly, the land valuations have been counter-productive and destructive.
“An average annual budget of R3.5billion for this critical and important function is an insult to the people of this country. No expropriation is necessary with compensation, let alone without. There is sufficient land available for redistribution. Government wants to place the burden of land reform on the shoulders of the people providing food and take away the land that they paid for, land that they didn’t steal from anybody.”
A farmer representing the eShowe area said it was clear that the people were driven by emotion and different perceptions of the history of the land. He pointed out that in 2035, the population of South Africa is likely to reach 75million. “What is absolutely necessary for everybody’s well-being is producing food on the land.”
A local engineer said his firm had lost three projects since the proposal to amend section 25 of the constitution came about. “A German company that was keen on investing in South Africa changed their mind, saying they will look into it again in two years. They want to first see what is happening in terms of land expropriation. A farmer who intended to fit a bigger packing area and new processing plant has decided not to go ahead. A game farmer who was thinking about building more accommodation is too afraid to invest. I have had to retrench 120 people and there are another 40 people we may have to let go this month.”
Some white farmers who chose to address the parliamentary committee in Zulu tried to persuade the crowd by explaining how they empowered black emerging farmers in their area with donations of agricultural equipment, veterinary support and shared knowledge.
Following the meeting, the Vryheid Herald had a candid conversation with a beneficiary of land expropriation.
“My family was given the title deed to a large farm, but the land is not being used at all. We do not have the equipment, we do not have the knowledge or the skills to use the land productively. It will be the same with other black beneficiaries. They get the land, but all it means is that they have land. They have somewhere to stay. I do not support land expropriation without compensation. I support the white farmers. They are putting mealie meal on the table and ensuring that the people have food… But they need to be fair to their workers and treat them with respect. They must understand that black people were disadvantaged during apartheid and assist to develop black emerging farmers so that, when they acquire land, they know how to use it productively,” she said.
At the end of the day it was clear that just as seeking answers to the question of who should own the land, one needs to consider what is in the best interest of all South Africans and consider how the land can be used productively.