It looks like extremists in South Africa have gained the upper hand in that country’s Parliament.
White South African farmers will be removed from their land after a landslide vote in parliament.
The country’s constitution is now likely to be amended to allow for the confiscation of white-owned land without compensation, following a motion brought by radical Marxist opposition leader Julius Malema.
It passed by 241 votes for to 83 against after a vote on Tuesday, and the policy was a key factor in new president Cyril Ramaphosa’s platform after he took over from Jacob Zuma in February.
Mr Malema said the time for ‘reconciliation is over’. ‘Now is the time for justice,’ News24 reported.
‘We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land.’
There’s more at the link.
Given the political cronyism and disastrous economic results of land confiscation in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), many are already predicting the collapse of the South African economy as a result of this decision. It’s hard to disagree with them.
However, I’m frustrated by the blatantly racist comments directed against this decision by many commenters here in the USA. They appear to regard this as a simple black-versus-white issue. They exhibit little or no knowledge of the history of land confiscation in South Africa – particularly the fact that most white-owned farmland in that country was, in fact, confiscated from the black tribes who formerly lived there.
- In some (but by no means all) cases, those tribes had already been driven from their homes by intertribal conflict (particularly the period of the Mfecane, the genocidal tribal wars from about 1815 to 1840 that depopulated large parts of southern Africa). However, the survivors always regarded their tribal territories as their own. Unfortunately, when they returned, they often found that Boer “Voortrekkers” had moved into the area and now claimed it for themselves. The tribes became, in Boer eyes, “squatters“; but to the tribes, it was the Boers who were squatters.
- In other cases, black tribes were physically driven from their land by armed conflict with Boers and other settlers. The so-called “Kaffir Wars” (now euphemistically called the “Xhosa Wars” in these politically correct times) are well-known examples.
In essence, the colonial era ended with the colonial power(s) regarding all the territory in their possession as being, essentially, the property of the colonizers. The local inhabitants were to be exploited as a labor resource. That was their only value, their only asset. The British Empire was just as bad as the later apartheid government in that regard; in fact, many apartheid laws had their genesis in colonial legislation (e.g. the Natives Land Act of 1913, which initially allocated just 7.5% of the total land area to “natives”; the punitive “hut taxes“, aimed at forcing black tribesmen to work on white-owned mines and farms in order to earn money to pay them; etc.).
The apartheid government that took office in 1948 continued and extended these measures with great enthusiasm. In particular, as far as land was concerned, the Group Areas Act built on the foundation of the Land Act of 1913. Black people (forming 70%-80% of the total population of South Africa) were allocated a mere 13% of its land (mostly the worst areas – non-arable or poorly suited for farming, remote from urban areas and the resources of civilization). Under apartheid, most black workers had to travel long distances to their jobs in urban or mining areas, where they were paid a relative pittance and housed in giant hostels under poor conditions. Their families were forced to remain in designated tribal areas, using subsistence agriculture to survive. All the best land, including almost all arable land, was officially and legally reserved for whites.
After universal democracy came to South Africa in 1994, Nelson Mandela exercised his very considerable influence to keep radicals in check. They wanted to reclaim traditional black tribal lands immediately, but Mandela realized that if they did so, there would be an unstoppable white flight – the very people who had run the economy for decades and generations, and who were needed to keep it going during the period of transition. He successfully reined in the radicals, and ensured that, at least at first, fair market value was paid for redistributed land, under the principle of “willing seller, willing buyer”.
Unfortunately, not many farmers were willing to sell their land, having a deep attachment to it (frequently being descended from generations of farmers who’d worked it). Also, the demands on government funds were so great that not much could be spared for land redistribution. As a result, not much progress was made – and the radicals grew more and more impatient. After Mandela’s death in 2013, his restraining influence was removed; and under the rule of less honorable men such as former president Jacob Zuma, corruption, nepotism and incompetence became the key features of the South African government.
The endemic corruption finally led (a couple of weeks ago) to the downfall of President Zuma, and his replacement by Cyril Ramaphosa (whom I met a couple of times during the transitional period in South Africa). He appears to have made a great deal of money, very quickly, in the private sector, leading to allegations that he’s just as corrupt as his predecessors. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there, and I won’t speculate. However, I’m quite sure he’s aware that his party, the African National Congress, has become deeply unpopular in South Africa thanks to its corruption and indifference to the plight of the “ordinary people”. Elections are due next year, and the ANC is under serious threat of losing power.
I suspect Ramaphosa has embraced the radical position on land reform (i.e. land confiscation), as a quick and easy way for the ANC to regain popularity among the broad mass of the people. Furthermore, he and his party were probably “pushed over the edge” on this issue by the Economic Freedom Fighters, a political party founded by a former ANC Youth League president. It’s unabashedly revolutionary and socialist (if not hard-core Communist) in its objectives. The EFF’s president, Julius Malema, has long argued for land confiscation, and is likely to receive increased electoral support as a result of his “triumph” on this issue. He refers to current white farmers as “criminals”, on the grounds that their ancestors stole the land from blacks, and therefore their descendants share their guilt. That’s nonsense from any rational legal standpoint, but then, rationality isn’t what he’s about. He’s a populist in pursuit of power, and he understands the tribal mentality.
So, you see, the situation is a great deal more complex than most US commenters will admit. There is a real, historically factual and accurate grievance among the black community in South Africa. At the same time, the present white farmers argue – naturally – that they did not confiscate anyone’s land, so why should they be held accountable for past injustices? They also argue – probably correctly – that without them, the land will become unproductive, just as it did in Zimbabwe when white farmers were driven from their farms. I don’t foresee anything different happening in South Africa . . . but that’s not the point, as far as many black people are concerned. They still believe – and historically, they’re correct in believing – that their ancestors were robbed of their land. They want it back. It’s as simple as that.
Many black people in South Africa appear unwilling or unable to recognize the likely consequences of this step. In many cases, that, too, can be laid at apartheid’s door, as it refused to properly educate black people (see the Bantu Education Act and its consequences). The late Hendrik Verwoerd, a Prime Minister of South Africa, infamously said:
“Blacks should never be shown the greener pastures of education, they should know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water.”
On another occasion, he opined:
“There is no place for [the Bantu] in the European community above the level of certain forms of labour … What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd. Education must train people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live.”
Faced with such attitudes, such contempt for their very humanity, is it any wonder that black resentment boiled over in so many years of internal conflict under apartheid? And is it any wonder that many black people, now that they control the reins of power in South Africa, want their land back as a repudiation of colonialism and apartheid, which took it away? And is it any wonder that so many of them, educated under such philosophies, are literally incapable of understanding the likely consequences of their desire for revenge? They’ve never been given the tools to do otherwise.
I’m glad I no longer live in South Africa. The next few years are going to be very difficult there.
EDITED TO ADD: From reader comments, it appears that many expect black South Africans to approach this issue logically and rationally, from a Western perspective. Sadly, that’s not realistic. They approach it from a knee-jerk, gut-feel perspective: “The land was ours. They took it. We want it back.” It’s the same dynamic driving many Palestinians, driving the cultural wars in Nigeria between north and south (the religious dimension of Muslim versus Christian is merely a later veneer over a much older and longer-established conflict), and so on.
It’s important to understand the factual reality behind such emotional, irrational reactions, if we’re to understand the problem at all. That’s why I wrote this article. I don’t agree with the confiscation of white-owned farmland, because it’s very likely to go the way of Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, it’s a reality that South Africa will have to deal with – and, in due course, the rest of the world will be affected by its consequences, one way or another.
There’s also the influence of animist religion on land confiscation and redistribution, about which I’ve written a subsequent article. That’s an integral part of the issue, so please read that as well.