Debate on the sixth ANC party motion: Land reform

The 1913 Natives Land Act was not a ‘nice’ piece of legislation and it is not my place to seek to defend it in any way.  Like our colleagues across the floor we wish to reverse the legacies of this Act and bring about a new era of land ownership and security for all South Africans.

It is worth saying something about the history of the 1913 Act to place it in a historical context.  It was the culmination of events originally set in train by imperialists such as Lord Alfred Milner in 1899 which had British forces fighting a long and hugely costly war to assert control over the mineral wealth of the Witwatersrand.  In the words of Thomas Pakenham in his magisterial work ‘The Boer War’, the worst legacy of the war of 1899-1902 was perhaps ‘the political price it exacted from Africans to pay for white unity’.  That unity of the four British colonies that was achieved in 1910 led directly to the establishment of the SA National Congress in 1912 as a response to the political exclusion of black South Africans from any political rights.  Their exclusion from equality with white South Africans when it came to land ownership was then confirmed in the 1913 Land Act.

A Democratic Alliance government would indeed go further than that of the present government when it came to addressing these legacies of dispossession, discrimination and exclusion.  Current proposals include re-opening the land claims register to communities which failed to meet the previous cut-off date.  This would indeed benefit a number of communities in KZN which have, to date, unsuccessfully petitioned this Legislature for consideration under the present restitution act.  These proposals also seek to include the rights of the first people – the Khoi, San, Griqua and Khorana – who were of course dispossessed long before 1913 by both black and white settlers.

Put simply, the DA would seek to do what the ANC has, since 1996, consistently failed to do.  That is to bring black South Africans into exactly the same property ownership regime which white South Africans have enjoyed since before 1913.

In order to understand the DA’s proposals it is necessary to confront the elephant in the room – and by that Mr Speaker, I am not referring to my colleagues in the IFP.  I am, however, referring to the communal lands currently held by traditional authorities and in particular the Ingonyama Trust, which controls nearly 40% of the total land of KZN, including some with the best agricultural potential in the province.

The DA’s new policy document on land reform says we would ‘develop omnibus legislation to give deemed rights of ownership to land occupiers in communal land areas that would make whatever rights citizens currently have on communal land fully tradeable’.  The rights people currently have are to occupy only.  Under the DA proposal this right to occupy would become tradeable – in other words it would grant the right to buy and sell the land which, for the first time, would give real land security to all the inhabitants of this country.  In time these rights would be formalised through title deeds, which could be registered in the names of individuals, families or Trusts.

The proposal would mean that we would have to distinguish between the administrative duties of traditional leaders under customary law as is recognised in current legislation on the one hand, and the right to allocate land in communal areas on the other.   But the whole point is that it would mean that the rights to buy and sell and inherit property, all of which are rights taken for granted by white South Africans because they have always had them, would be enjoyed by everyone equally.

It is a bold proposal and would entail a great deal of change in attitude and practice for many people but the pressure for such change is building.  This would be a real departure from the pain of the 1913 Land Act but so far the ANC has hesitated to grasp the nettle.

The ANC cannot keep people in the era of race based differentiation for ever – that after all was what we sought to achieve in ending apartheid and adopting a constitution which gives equal rights to all citizens.

Mark Steele, MPP

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