The land issue, as it is commonly referred to, is one of the most emotive topics South Africa is yet to resolve. In a bid to be consistent with the values of democracy, parliament has facilitated a process of public participation to address the issue. Of the over 700 000 written submissions, that of AfriForum was the most polarizing.
It came at a time when US president Donald Trump echoed the lie that white farmers are facing genocide at the hands of the black majority in South Africa. That narrative predates Trump’s Tweet in American white supremacist circles. In 2012, the ADL Centre on Extremism reported that neo-Nazi and racist skinhead movements were preparing to protest against “genocide of whites in South Africa.”
AfriForum has a similar stance on what they term “farm murders” which when quantified, accounted for 74 of the 20366 murders reported by the SAPS from 1 April 2016 to 1 March 2017. The term “genocide” is an unnecessary hyperbole.
The written submission by Afriforum was a plethora of mistruths and lacked substantive solutions and suggestions. Afriforum isolated three methods through which white settlers acquired land. These modes were the settlement on unoccupied land, purchases from tribal leaders and conquest. In addition, they claim that conquest was the least significant of these modes of acquisition. Although they claim they sympathise with the plight of the landless African majority, they suggest land reform should be conducted in a “historically accurate” manner. We are yet to be enlightened on what the litmus test for the historical accuracy is.
Farm lobbying group, Agri SA states that 73.3% off agricultural land in SA is white owned. In 1994, government and “previously disadvantaged” individuals owned 14.9% of agricultural land and 26.7% in 2016. Government ownership of land accounts for 29.1% of the land value and 46.5% of the production value. This is disproportionate using any measure, even in the absence of a comprehensive land audit. In the same breath, it is short-sighted to place all our focus on agricultural land. Only 12% of the country’s land is suitable to cultivate rain-fed crops. The primary agricultural sector contributes 2% of GDP. The idea that food security will be compromised as a result of land expropriation is absurd.
South African farmers are dwarfed by Chinese farmers who, due to stable water sources, are able to “double crop.” This technique allows for rice to be cultivated in June/July and a less productive crop in October/November using the same size of land. Agriculture and geography will help debunk the first myth that whites occupied unoccupied land.
The nomadic lifestyle of precolonial South Africa was not a function of underdevelopment but rather, a function of Africa’s geography. Africa is three times the size of Europe so it is reasonable to assume that there are vast vacant areas. Africa is a large landmass and deserts like the Sahara and Kahari form easily inland 30 degrees from the equator. Rainforests form on the equator while savannas form between the rainforests and savannas.
Rainfall is unpredictable. Savannas starve when there is little rainfall while the soil in rainforests gets eroded when there are heavy rains. These dynamics make agriculture extremely challenging in Africa. Large static and urbanised communities can only be sustained by large-scale farming. There were exceptions to the nomadic societies. Great Zimbabwe and Kilwa Kisiwani are such exceptions. Since the border between Zimbabwe and SA is artificial, we can use the story of Cecil John Rhodes to debunk the second myth that land was acquired legally through sales.
Rhodes left his brother’s cotton plantation to join the diamond rush in Kimberly. The Rudd Concession was used to obtain the Royal Charter but it also granted De Beers exclusive mining rights in Lobengulo’s territory which would be restricted to 10 mines. This was in exchange for protection from Boer settlers.
Armed with maxim guns, he hired 1400 mercenaries, each promised 6000 acres of land and 16 claims to mine gold Rhodes killed 3000 of Lobengula’s warriors. As President of the British South Africa Company (BSAC), Rhodes managed to obtain a Royal Charter from the United Kingdom. The Royal Charter was granted under the guise that Rhodes would control parts of Mashonaland and Matebeleland that were “not in use” by the native Africans. The Royal Charter gave BSAC to establish a police force, create financial institutions and fly its own flag.
By 1895, BSAC had imposed a hut tax, native reservations and introduced passes to restrict the movements of the African majority. By 1914, the African majority (97% of the population) occupied 23% of the non-productive land. As Prime Minister of the British Cape Colony, he oversaw the implementation of the Glen Grey Act which sought to further dispossess blacks. This act ensured that blacks were not allowed to sell land without the consent of the governor and were barred from subletting land. To ensure that landlessness was a generational phenomenon for blacks, the act also stated that blacks were not allowed to give land as an inheritance to more than one heir.
Due to their insatiable hunger for African land and minerals, the Boers in the Transvaal and Rhodesians had a bloody war. The first concentration camps were as a result of this war. The rationale for Rhodes’ aggression towards the Boers was simple. The revenues from gold would make the Boers a threat. If they were to join forces with German colonists in the west (Namibia) they would disturb his grand plans to move north and ultimately colonize the entire African continent.
Afriforum needs to enlighten us on how such contracts could have been legally binding if Lobengula and many other African leaders did not have contractual capacity to enter such contracts as they did not understand the language these contracts were written in.
Conquest was the most barbaric tool used to attain land. The legal steps taken to dispossess Africans were equally unjust and the most effective because the status quo remains. Populist politicians would have us believe that land ownership equals prosperity.
This may very well be the case in a situation where blacks are backyard dwellers and townships are densely populated. “I prefer land to niggers” is a quote by Rhodes that would sum up Afriforum’s stance to land reform.