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CAPE TOWN — There’s fact-based scientific analysis and there’s the qualitative survey – if a snap poll of a few black South African urbanites is worthy of the latter name. Ironically, it’s at the intersection of these two revelatory techniques that we get closest to the truth about land expropriation without compensation (EWC) here. Random interviewee, David Makgata, 24, a TV satellite dish technician from Alexandra, says tellingly; ‘’even if I do get the land, what am I going to do with it?” This happens to dovetail perfectly with the Institute for Race Relations (IRR), observation that the ruling party has a dismal record of supporting small-scale farmers to achieve its purported aim; economic empowerment. Three fifths of the population live in cities and most have little desire to farm. There’s plenty of readily-available State land to start a national agrarian project, yet those who want land and can show legitimate claim to privately owned farmland, generally go after its cash value. Which gives the lie to the political rhetoric that it all centres on restorative justice. One large cash pay-out isn’t an annual, or even a bi-annual crop. Life-long penury inevitably returns. Sustainability here seems to apply to political tenure, not jobs or income. – Chris Bateman
President Cyril Ramaphosa says his ruling party plans to amend the constitution to permit seizing land without compensation to address the inequities of laws during white-minority rule that at one time put 87% of South Africa’s land in the hands of whites. The goal is also to give more black citizens an opportunity to earn a livelihood. Yet, with more than three-fifths of the nation’s 57.7m people living in cities, many have no desire to farm.
“Land expropriation is important because the land was taken from our forefathers by force,” said Nhlanhla Mahlangu, an unemployed 28-year-old in the Zandspruit slum on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg who plans to stay in the commercial capital. “Some people may prefer money and others, like myself, would prefer a piece of land on which to build our own houses rather than to be living in shacks.”
The governing African National Congress says now, 24 years after the end of apartheid, is the time to tackle the land issue. But critics say earlier reform programs it oversaw failed dismally and its renewed focus is a bid to counter the populist Economic Freedom Fighters party before elections scheduled for May. Instead, more should be done to provide adequate housing in rapidly expanding cities, many South Africans say.
“People living in urban areas prefer to keep their lives and livelihoods” in cities, said Phumla Kunene, a 32-year-old who works in the freight industry in the southeastern port city of Durban. “Some of them don’t want anything to do with rural areas. Then the best option is financial compensation.”
While some previous attempts to restore land to descendants of its original owners have included the option of payments instead of land, the ANC hasn’t mentioned that possibility in its new drive.
The EFF, which advocates placing all land in state hands, has captured the imagination of many of South Africa’s young people with its demands that everything from land to banks be nationalised to help speed up the transfer of wealth to the black majority.
Rapper Cassper Nyovest had a hit last year with Ksazobalit, a song about black citizens getting back land seized by white colonialists. The music video ends with an initially skeptical Afrikaans-speaking farmer dancing and sharing a meal with fashionably dressed black youths.
One-liners such as “we’ve got the land back” are often used on social media as an expression of approval.
Yet research by the South African Institute of Race Relations showed that only 4 percent of the black South Africans it surveyed placed land reform among the top two issues that government should attend to.
“We are an urbanising society, and we are a society where opportunities correlate very strongly with skills,” said Terence Corrigan, a researcher at the institute. “Most South Africans see their future secured by a job in a city and a good education for their children.”
“There certainly were historical injustices, but land reform in the agrarian sense is not going to be transformative in solving South Africa’s problems,” said Corrigan. “You need exceptional expertise, funds and goodwill. I see very little of any of that. It has very little to do with socioeconomic problems and far more to do with ideology and politics.”
There’s still little clarity on what most people would do if they were allocated land away from the cities.
“We do need the land, that’s what I know for sure, but we don’t know what we need it for,” said David Makgata, a 24-year-old satellite television technician who lives in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township. “Even if I do get the land, what am I going to do with it.”