WE CANNOT speak of authentic liberation in South Africa until land stolen is returned to its rightful owners. Land theft under colonialism and apartheid imposed a life-sentence of poverty on the majority of black South Africans. Despite a slate of opportunities for land redistribution in the post-apartheid era, the ANC has failed to move with sufficient radical impetus to return land to black people.
While in 1994, the ANC bestowed the noble gift of political democracy to a nation captured in the ravages of the racist apartheid regime, economic liberation in South Africa remains unrequited, in a society still heavily marked by welts of poverty and inequality in a post-democracy panorama of incomplete and impotent socioeconomic transformation. Truth has seeped into the afterglow of the Rainbow Nation, exposing it as a front for white sovereignty. It is in the rays of the Rainbow Nation that the illicit loot of colonial and apartheid beneficiaries has been protected.
This illegitimate hold over land and economy has continued as the order of the day, deliberately diminishing the conscious call for a complete, rather than incomplete socioeconomic revolution. White consciousness, even on the generous serving of reconciliation and social cohesion, has remained fixed on an axis of privilege and yet to acquire a taste for radical economic transformation or show a genuine commitment for socioeconomic redress, 23 years into democracy. There is little cognition of or moral conviction around the reality that social cohesion can only be built on the arc of social and economic justice, or that a liberated nation cannot rest forever on the foundation of plunder or structural frame of economic exclusion.
To date, the ANC has been far too accommodating of white interests, despite the intransigence of white business towards individual social and economic justice and radical economic transformation. But the ground has shifted, just a little, at the ANC’s 54th national conference. Being far more invested in the polity of policies, rather than in the politics of the person, I was rooting for a triumph for radical economic transformation, the return of stolen land without compensation and free decolonised education, at the conference. The conference proved to be an important landmark.
The two most precious gems from it were the announcement of free tertiary education and the policy adoption of land expropriation without compensation. The announcement of free higher education, by President Jacob Zuma, was made on Reconciliation Day, on the dawn of the conference. A commitment to free tertiary education, is a necessary and critical investment in the black child and in the future of our nation. It is also a crucial marker of social redress, in a nation, where educational opportunities were stolen along with land, cattle and other economic resources and prospects. While a faction of morally bankrupt business people may not fully appreciate this pivotal and historically significant investment in education, any individual with just a fraction of ethical fortitude or a truly patriotic complexion will know what a priceless gift this is.
The conference opened on a high note with the announcement of free tertiary education and it closed on an elated and highly resonant note with the announcement that land expropriation without compensation was to form part of the radical economic transformation policy underbelly of the ANC.
The ANC national conference resolved that the NEC will initiate an amendment to the SA Constitution of Section 25, in order to deliver land expropriation, without compensation. Certainly this is a significant and necessary step forward for the ANC. The challenge now is for the party to act decisively on the implementation of this paradigm-shifting policy if it is not to falter and fall on the altar of the frustrated aspirations of an economically excluded black majority, who remain on the side paths of the economically fertile plains of South Africa. Of concern though, was that Enoch Godongwana, the chairperson of ANC’s economic transformation committee, said that no timelines had been decided for the amendment process. We cannot afford a lack of forward momentum on radical economic transformation, particularly on land return.
Speaking at the Progressive Business Forum Breakfast, at the ANC’s 54th national conference on Wednesday, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said the issue of land needed urgent resolution: “Without addressing this historic injustice.” Radebe said, “we will never have peace in the country.” Radebe also admitted that the land reform programme had not moved with the required pace. Godongwana cautioned that expropriation would have to pass a sustainability test so that food security and agricultural production are not placed in jeopardy. I would encourage the ANC to ensure that this ‘initiation’ process is speedy and decisive and the sustainability test must not be a roadblock on the journey to economic liberation or curtail or compromise the complexion or character of land return, which must be implemented in its fullest expression.
The great revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth “that for a colonised people the most essential value, because the most concrete, is first and foremost the land – the land which will bring them bread and above all, dignity.” Land return is a necessary anchor of authentic liberation. It can also serve as an anchor of black unity across party or ideological divides. Today, the words of Zuma echo loudly – earlier this year he urged political parties to unite on the question of land.
We have lost too many opportunities to return stolen land to the rightful owners in South Africa and we are failing in our generational mission. My Christmas wish, in this festival of opportunity, is that truly patriotic political parties and organisations humble themselves and work together on achieving this great mission, which history book will record as a magnificent act of conscious collaboration and black unity in the journey towards economic liberation in our lifetime.
Kim Heller is a media commentator