Reaction to land talk

Melanie Steyn, lecturer, Cornerstone Institute

Really, Theresa May and Donald Trump?

So the talk about land expropriation without compensation in South Africa has prompted responses from Western countries.

Their indignation is really interesting, even amusing. They quote international law and are outraged at the immorality of the idea.

Because at this stage, that’s all it is – an idea, a principle that has been agreed upon. There are no detailed policy statements yet, except that President Cyril Ramaphosa did assure the nation that it would not involve “smash-and-grab tactics.”

Yet many a white homeowner has responded by apparently believing that his house will be taken away.The president also stated that it would be implemented in ways that would not damage the economy. Random expropriation would damage it enormously.

He also said that it would increase agricultural production. Smaller producers are likely to provide more organic foods, as well as competition for conglomerates.

President Ramaphosa also assured us that it would improve food security. You can’t do that without keeping all your farmers happy. Already, the joint Constitutional Review Committee has said it will embark on an extensive public participation process in planning expropriation.

I suppose it is the “without compensation” phrase that disturbs people most. It does sound radical and scary, but it is only one of the methods for redistributing land, not the only one.

However, the real cause of my amazement is that this is an old Western and South African habit. Why this new reaction? It was used from the first year when Van Riebeeck started elbowing Autshumao out of //Hui !Gaeb, where Cape Town now stands.

Autshumao, nicknamed Harry, had established a business providing food and water to passing ships for decades. Autshumao was a cultivated leader who spoke fluent English – having been abducted to England in 1630 – as well as Dutch. His attempts to hold onto a share of the enterprise he began were politically astute, but no match for the ruthless Dutch with their guns. It is his statue that should be standing on the foreshore.

In the 19th century, settlers claimed that blacks were overcrowding their land and did not farm productively. They wanted the land taken away and given to them, and increasingly, this is what happened.

In 1894, with Cecil John Rhodes as the chief draftsman, the Glen Grey Act was passed. It annexed the whole Transkei and Pondoland and declared how much land each African was entitled to, creating the first townships. The happy conclusion, said the law-makers, was that many black people would be forced into labour.

In that case, Britain supplied the leadership, not the indignation.

The trend continued, and in 1907 a group of Basotho chiefs went to London to ask for assistance, and before the notorious 1913 Land Act was passed, a deputation of five men went again, to beg for intervention. Their pleas were ignored. One of them was the quiet, kind, cultivated Sol T. Plaatje, who was fluent in eight languages. In 1919 the supplicants were back, at the Versailles Peace Conference, yet the expropriation without compensation was permitted to continue on a ferocious scale. So I’m afraid Europe’s current outcry also looks hypocritical.

Yet more legislation followed. In 1932, the Native Service Contracts Act reduced many share croppers to tenant labourers. There were separate laws aimed specifically at forbidding Indian people from owning or occupying land in “white areas.” Altogether, there were nine separate laws* before apartheid that dispossessed black people without compensation.

There was no perceptible outcry among Western nations.

Then apartheid brought the prepos-terous idea of Bantu-stans and forced removals, among other horrors.

Everyone knows that the nice family in their house in a white area did not directly take a home from the man sleeping under the bridge near the beach. They paid for their house and are budgeting to pay off their mortgage. Yet we are all complicit. That’s why it’s complicated and why we need to wait to see what provisions are going to be made.

In Cape Town, there is plenty of dispossession still going on, and no expropriation of white property. Quite the opposite, when one considers the evictees from all over the inner city living in the desolate Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier. Agricultural land is a

complex issue. Many enlightened farmers have already started sharing their land and offering support to their new neighbours with equipment and experience. A new black farmer, whose family has been landless for generations, will naturally need training and support, or he will just be obliged to sell his land back to a white farmer in the end. That fact must be accommodated in the plans to be made.

On the question of urban land, of course Cape Town must become an integrated city, with fixed rental properties for people who have been impoverished. Townships have been neglected for an indefensible time, and need to be upgraded to proper suburbs in their own right.

*- The Glen Grey act of 1894 – The Native Land Act 27 – 1913 – The Rural Dealers Licensing Act of 1922. – The Transvaal Asiatic Land Tenure of 1930. – The Riotous Assemblies Act 19 – 1930. – The Asiatic Immigration Amendment Act of 1931. – The Native Service Contracts Act of 1932. – The Slums Act of 1934. – The Development Trust and Land Act of 1936 (Act 18)

* This letter has been shortened.