“I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice.
“I owe my being to the Khoi and the San whose desolate souls haunt the great expanses of the beautiful Cape – they who fell victim to the most merciless genocide our native land has ever seen, they who were the first to lose their lives in the struggle to defend our freedom and dependence and they who, as a people, perished in the result.”
That is an excerpt from former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s famous “I am an African” speech of 1996.
Twenty-two years later, the land Mbeki said he was not afraid to defend and die for when faced with perpetual injustice is firmly on the international agenda.
South Africa is on the brink of land reform – carried out under the rubric of expropriation without compensation – and the national mood is bullish.
It is the wind of change that is blowing. Ironically, Mbeki is swimming against the tide.
Recently, a Thabo Mbeki Foundation internal document that leaked to the media has been defended by leaders in the organisation, saying the views contained in it were “not an attack on the ANC”.
The document criticises South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC)’s approach to the land issue, saying it marks a shift from the party’s values.
Mbeki is believed to be the author of the document.
According to the document, the ANC’s decision to expropriate white-owned land without compensation is a departure from the party’s commitment to “non-racialism”.
Certainly, Mbeki has a constituency of cheerleaders, who, after his comments, see him as a moderate in the ongoing land debate in his country.
His is not a moderate agenda, but one that wants to derail the black majority’s triumph at the instigation of a white monopoly that operates from behind the scenes to denigrate black power.
It is, however, unfortunate that Mbeki has gone against the tide at a moment when nothing can stop the course of history.
South Africans who appreciate what it means to be deprived of their natural resource should not be torpedoed by the sentiment of an individual who failed to fulfil promises during his tenure.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said Mbeki was interested in defending white domination and the economic oppression of the natives.
He said Mbeki jumped into defending white land domination as “he realises that we (black people) are united on the question of land in this country for the first time”.
Historically, land ownership in Africa is racially skewed in favour of whites, and when the majority want a redress of the issue, they are viewed as attacking race.
The land issue is not an attack on race, or is not a departure of a party’s commitment to non-racialism, but an avenue to equality and ownership of the means of production.
What South Africans are doing is just clamouring for empowerment and a stake in the control of the means of production.
John Dube, the first president of the ANC (then called the South African Native National Congress or SANNC), told an African audience in 1912 that “if we have no land to live on, we can be no people”.
A year after Dube’s comments, the Native Land Act No. 27 was passed by the white establishment. The act was instituted to allocate only about seven percent of arable land to Africans and leave the more fertile land for whites.
In 1994, the ANC, now the majority party in South Africa’s first democratically elected government, pledged to redistribute 30 percent of white-owned agricultural land to black farmers. By 2012, just a third of that figure had been met.
Mbeki himself failed to honour the pledge to fully redistribute the land to the natives during his presidency.
The comments from the document are a promotion of the Afri-Forum agenda that land redistribution in South Africa is promoting “white genocide”.
In his book, “Wealth of Nations”, right-wing economist Adam Smith said the most important source of a nation’s wealth is the ability to take its land for productive purposes.
Wrote Smith: “Wherever there is great property, there is great inequality.”
For Africans, land is not only a great property, but it is a place to be born, to be buried and for posterity.
The reason Mbeki thinks the ANC is becoming a “black party” which is hounding whites from African land is because a minority is holding a huge chunk of the productive asset.
Government figures indicate that almost 25 years after the end of apartheid, white people, who only make nine percent of the population, own 72 percent of the country’s prime land.
Should Mbeki be reminded that his father, Govan and other nationalist leaders including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Oliver Tambo and Steve Biko were fighting for equality in their struggle against apartheid?
The apartheid system in South Africa instituted by the National Party in 1948 economically marginalised, politically oppressed and socially segregated locals of various freedoms.
People like Mbeki were welcomed in neighbouring countries after fleeing the apartheid monster in 1962, disguised as a football team.
Today, Mbeki wants to speak leniency on behalf of a system whose then leader in 1985, Pieter Willem Botha said “destroy white South Africa and our influence, and this country will drift into faction strife, chaos and poverty.”
There is no racism at play as spoken by Mbeki, but his revisionist sentiments on the land issue are an attempt to sink the aspirations of the poor who are within reach to access the important asset and contribute their share in economic production.
Let South Africans decide their future practically and not be swayed by a 30-page intellectual document that has no bearing to the issue at hand as it does not address the fierce need for equality.
Do Mbeki’s views still resonate with his “I am an African” speech?
Perhaps he should be reminded of Margaret Mitchell’s words that: “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it is the only thing that lasts.”