It is nearly 20 years since South Africa called itself ‘New South Africa’. But the outcome of Mr. Mandela’s negotiations and his ANC colleagues reveals that they were superficial and tainted with appeasement. Racial oppression has morphed seamlessly into oppression based on economic circumstance
The land dispossession of the African indigenous majority was the primary contradiction of the liberation struggle against colonialism. At the negotiations table with the apartheid regime, land dispossession of the African people vanished like mist and became a taboo.
The consequences of the absence of the land issue for serious discussions are that today in South Africa, people who are evicted from land with monotonous regularity are Africans. The most unemployed people are Africans. The poorest people are Africans. People who live in squalid inhuman shacks are Africans. These inhuman shacks often burn or flood, killing many and destroying property of these economically down-trodden people. The least medically equipped hospitals and clinics are those that serve Africans.
The worst or no roads are where Africans live in rural areas and in many townships. The least educated and skilled people in South Africa are Africans. People who have no money for education and are being educated in the smallest numbers are Africans. People who have the shortest life expectancy are Africans. People who have the highest child mortality are Africans. This is because through the Native Land Act 1913 and the Native Trust Land Act 1936 the British colonial regime allocated five million Africans only 13 per cent of their land. 87 per cent of land seized from Africans was given to 349,837 European colonial settlers. This was fertile land and minerals resources such as diamonds, gold and platinum.
This prompted African leaders such as Sol Plaatje and John Dube to go to England to plead with the British Government to intervene in their people’s land dispossession, as this was a British colony. On 20 July 1914 they presented their petition to King George V. In it, they said they ‘fully accepted the sovereignty of Great Britain and no other.’ One of their demands was that ‘the natives [colonised indigenous Africans] be put in possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same conditions as the white race.’
The British government ignored the African petition. The sympathetic Daily News in London, however, reported the plight of the African people of this country. It commented:
‘In carving out estates for themselves in Africa the white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black men. They have appropriated his land and have taken away his economic power and freedom and have left him worse than they found him….the blacks as compared with whites are in proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one-fifth of their land….The deputation of natives now in England has appealed to the imperial government for protection. They asked for suspension of the Native Land Act 1913….’
Today, the African population is 79.2 per cent and the white population is only 8.9 per cent. It is also 100 years now since the Native Land Act 1913 consolidated British imperialism and colonially robbed Africans of their land. The Native Land Act is supposedly abolished but it is entrenched in section 25(7) of the South African Constitution. The Africans remain robbed of land and all the mineral wealth of their country.
Perhaps this is what F.W. de Klerk, the then president of apartheid colonial South Africa, envisaged when he told his parliament in 17 April 1990, ‘We are not prepared to destroy existing rights [for whites] or allow them to be destroyed. Anyone who believes that we will accept a dispensation in which the quality of existing liberties and rights are dismantled is mistaken. Those who enjoy full political rights at present are not prepared to bow out apologetically from the stage of history. On the contrary a key role awaits them in a new dispensation.’
Land is the source of life. All the needs of a nation are in the land. A nation without land is no nation. Negotiations that do not repossess the dispossessed people of their land are a fake.
In true negotiations and reconciliation, there is give and take. In South Africa the victims of the crime of apartheid have given far more than the perpetrators. The beneficiaries of apartheid are more economically comfortable today than during the apartheid time. Will there be any surprise when this unjust situation explodes?
AZANIA (South Africa) is today like a country which Prophet Isaiah saw when he wrote, ‘Your country is desolate. Your cities are burned with fire: your land strangers devour in your presence.’ (Isaiah 1:7)
Another version says, ‘…your fields are being stripped by foreigners, right before you.’ AZANIA has fields of minerals such as gold, diamonds and platinum as well as fields of fertile land for agriculture. But their African owners remain colonially stripped of them. They are the poorest people in their own country.
Will there be any surprise if this unjust situation for the colonially land-robbed Africans explodes?
* Dr. Motsoko Pheko is former representative of the victims of apartheid at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He was a Member of the South African Parliament for ten years. During the struggle for national liberation he had the distinction of a freedom fighter that was imprisoned by three colonial regimes, namely South Africa, Portuguese Mozambique and Rhodesia. He is the author of several books, among which are: THE HIDDEN SIDE OF SOUTH AFRICAN POLITICS and TOWARDS AFRICA’S AUTHENTIC LIBERATION.