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Abandoning freedom for a fairytale destination

As South Africa prepares to celebrate Freedom Day on 27 April, Motsoko Pheko warns that the negotiated settlement that ended apartheid 16 years ago failed to take into consideration ‘the primary objectives for which the liberation struggle was fought’. The country’s constitution may be the best in the world, but isn’t it time it was amended on the fundamental issues that affect the majority poor, Pheko asks.

What are we celebrating this April 27? Some say we are celebrating democracy, the birth of a rainbow nation, the miracle of a negotiated settlement, the best constitution in the world which makes South Africa the only country in Africa that has legalised same-sex marriages, and the fifth in the whole world to do so.

Sixteen years of post-apartheid period, however, shows that the foundation upon which South Africa is built has dangerous cracks. The negotiated settlement was one-sided. The negotiations did not take into consideration the primary objectives for which the liberation struggle was fought. The fundamental interests of the majority 80 per cent were terribly compromised. The negotiators mistook the beginning of a long journey for arrival at the destination.

That is why the South African constitution has not been amended except when it was to move the people of Khutsong to North West and those of Matatiele to the Eastern Cape. It was amended also when the residents of Phiri, a poor community in Soweto opposed the installation of water metres that made water expensive and unaffordable for them. The South African constitution has never been amended on any fundamental issues that affect the majority poor.

The land policy of the ruling party is an unmitigated disaster. Land is the trophy over which the national liberation struggle was fought. Land is the national asset without which there can be no economic liberation of the majority poor. In South Africa, Africans are 80 per cent of the population, but they have 13 per cent of the land. This is as result of the Native Land Act 1913 that colonially legalised the land dispossession of the African people and created the ‘Native Reserves’ – the latter ‘Bantustans’ – as reservoir of cheap native labour for farms and mines. Section 25 of the South African constitution is now just another name for the Native Land Act 1913. It forbids any land claims by Africans before June 1913.

After the Native Land Act, the first secretary of the African National Congress, Solly Plaatje said, ‘What took place when Ministers and members (of the colonial parliament) met in caucus in Cape Town, they alone know, but we have the result in the Native Land Act 1913. At the beginning of May (1913), no one knew that the year would see the last territorial freedom for Africans… On June 19 the same year, the law had been enacted and was operating in every part of South Africa.’

Africans were dispossessed of so much land that the secretary of the ANC, Solly Plaatje, the ANC President, John Langalibalele Dube and three others went to Britain. On 14 July they presented a petition to King George V, the coloniser of the African country. These petitioners on behalf of the kings and people of this country said that they loved their country with a most intense love; that land had been taken away from them.

The petitioners said they ‘fully accepted the sovereignty of Great Britain and no other.’ One of the demands to King George V was ‘that the natives (Africans) should be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers, and on the same conditions as the white race.’

This was nearly 100 years ago. But this has not happened. It was betrayed for the second time at the negotiations table in 1994 and swept under the carpet. This was despite the Africans Claims In South Africa and The Bill Of Rights that had been endorsed by ANC presidents such as Dr Alfred B Xuma, Dr James Moroka and Chief Albert Luthuli.

This freedom document adopted by the ANC in 1943 reads: ‘We demand the right to an equal share in all material resources of the country and urge; That the present 13% of the surface area to 8 million Africans as against 87% to 2 million Europeans is unjust…and therefore demand a fair redistribution of LAND.’

The liberation struggle of the African people in South Africa has consistently been one of equitable redistribution of land and its resources according to population numbers. But the ANC government opted to buy back African land on the willing seller, willing buyer principle. This has not worked in spite of billions of Rand spent on this exercise. The ANC government has now run out of money to buy land. The minister of land reform and rural development, Gugile Kwinti has admitted that he needs R72 billion to buy some land.

An African proverb says, ‘It is a fool who buys his own cattle.’ Buying land that was taken from the Africans colonially is unjust, barbaric and flouts the principles of international law against colonialism and apartheid. This kind of land policy failed in Zimbabwe with dire consequences. If an economic giant such as Britain could not buy enough land in Zimbabwe, what hope is there that the ANC government can settle the land question by buying it?

This unjust land policy has obliged Dan Mokonyane, author of ‘The Big Sell Out’ to write, ‘This is just as the crude spectacle of a rapist who comes to the scene of the devastation of his nefarious act to demand payment for loss of his semen and exertion.’

What are we celebrating in South Africa this April 27? The former freedom fighters such as members of the Azanian Peoples’ Liberation Army (APLA) took up arms against apartheid. They are languishing in the prisons of ‘New South Africa’ for this. The United Nations declared apartheid a crime against humanity through the International Convention On The Suppression And Punishment Of The Crime Of Apartheid. Instead, it is former freedom fighters who been punished with imprisonment. The apartheid regime gave amnesty to over 3,500 of its own security forces and others in 1993. It shredded more than 44 metric tons of documents. In addition to this, the Truth And Reconciliation Commission granted amnesty to further perpetrators of apartheid.

April 27 this year gives this nation the opportunity to reflect on the journey to freedom that has been abandoned for a fairytale destination.

Burning of tyres and blocking of roads all over the country is a signal that something must be corrected before it is too late.

In South Africa most unemployed people are Africans. The poorest people are Africans. People who live in squalid inhuman settlements are Africans. These inhuman shelters often burn or flood destroying lives and property. The least equipped hospitals and clinics are those that serve Africans.

The worst or no roads are where Africans live. The least educated and skilled people in South Africa are Africans. People who have no money for education and are being educated in lowest numbers are Africans. People who have the shortest life expectancy are Africans. People with the highest child mortality are Africans. Yet billions of Rand are buying land and servicing the apartheid debt.

The majority of 45 million Africans possess little or nothing. Their democracy is dispossession without repossession. The constitution of South Africa must be amended. There must be a just democratic constitution to create a developmental state that will lift the standard of living of all people and banish poverty and underdevelopment.

Professor Sampie Terreblanche hits the nail on the head in his book, ‘A History of Inequality in South Africa,1652–2002’ when he writes, ‘The ANC’s core leaders effectively sold its sovereign freedom to implement an independent and appropriate socio-economic policy for a mess pottage when it entered into several compromises with the corporate sector and its global partners. These unfortunate “transactions” must be retracted or re-negotiated.’


* Dr Motsoko Pheko is author of ‘The Hidden Side of South African Politics’ and several other books, and a former member of the South African parliament.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.