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Return land to the people

The opportunistic and misguided claims by the latecomers to our revolution and members of the opposition that the ANC has neither passion nor commitment to the struggle for land lacks historical validity.

The current debate on land redistribution cannot be adequately interrogated without reflecting on the land issue from the beginning and recalling the heroic struggle fought by our ancestors in defence of their land and their humanity against the rapacious colonial conquerors.

The long and painful wars of resistance and dispossession against the African people shall remain a constant reminder of the brutality and greed of the coloniser and the heroic spirit and resilience of our forebears.

Fuelled by the devilish formation of the Union government and the subsequent 1913 Land Act which sought to systematically render Africans landless, John Langalibalele Dube led his peers in a spirited journey of resistance.

In fact, the formation of the ANC itself was a direct response to the mooted seizure of 87% of the indigenous land by the colonisers. Would I thus be remiss to say the ANC has a moral obligation and responsibility to the people of our country to return 80% of land to the people from whom land was taken? Would this be considered radical? The burden of land ownership proof should never be ours; those who today claim ownership must prove that land was actually paid for in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the third decade of our democratic dispensation, we have to ask the penetrating question: How far have we gone as the movement for change in the realisation of this African dream and does our pace inspire confidence in our people?

Waking up to the dreadful news of the coming into law of the 1913 Land Act, then ANC secretary, Sol Plaatje exclaimed: “The South African native found himself, not actually a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.”

What is the position of the South African native today in relation to the land question?

It is a fact that, despite the efforts of the democratic government to address the landlessness of our people, a lot of productive commercial land and prime residential land is still in white hands.

It is inexcusable that today, the state only owns a mere 14% of the country’s land with 79% being in private hands which, by all accounts, points to white people.

As a government, we are now more than ever called upon to return land to its rightful owners. We have to do so, not because it is fashionable to sing and dance about land but because it is time the majority of our people benefited equally from the resources provided by their own land and to move towards closing the circle of the revolution so many died for.

This sense of urgency to return land to our people is reflected by President Jacob Zuma in his state of the nation address that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve true reconciliation until the land question has been resolved.

Our pursuit of economic justice through the resolution of the land question can no longer be a dream of tomorrow, but a reality of today. To this end government has resolved to expedite the process of bringing the Expropriation Bill into law – which, once passed, will grant the minister of land affairs the right to expropriate in the national interest.

We cannot speak about the purchase of land based on market price and the willing-buyer willing-seller policy, not taking into cognisance that, primarily, what is being sold was stolen in the first place.

As a majority party in government the time is now to use our might to push for a new dispensation in land reform. We must seriously explore the route of land expropriation without compensation.

We need to emphasise the point that we are not advocating chaos or mindless uprising on these matters. As a responsible government with the welfare of its people in all its facets at heart, we have to explore all legal means to achieve these objectives.

As the ANC, we support the call and submission to Parliament for the removal of section 27(5) of the Constitution which sets a cut-off date of June 1913 as a yardstick for land claims.

Our people have suffered too long to stand idle and nurse the feelings of those who hold on to white privilege to the exclusion of the rest.

It is therefore more crucial that we seek to restore the dignity of our people who have for hundreds of years been removed from their ancestral land.

Similarly, we should expedite the law that seeks to ban foreign ownership of agricultural land. The threats about investor confidence and other excuses from the opposition benches, who want to hold on to the status quo, can no longer be entertained at the expense of our people.

It is indeed true that every day that passes without democratising our economy and land breeds conditions that threaten national cohesion and peace among our people and is, in fact, a security threat.

We dare not fail the millions of our people who have no other hope or refuge but the courage and resilience of our forebears who took up arms to defend their dignity and livelihood.

Dlodlo is an ANC member and deputy minister for public service and administration.

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