Unpacking the agenda of land for civil society in post-apartheid South Africa.

By: Sthabiso Mdledle

The Democracy Development Program (DDP) hosted a citizen forum at Diakonia last week to unpack the issue of land ownership and redistribution in the country. This was prompted by recent debates on parliament’s motion to expropriate land without compensation and the proposition to amend Section 25 of the constitution, as a solution for dealing with what seems to be a deadlock between government and private owners of land in the wholesale redistribution to disposed persons and communities

Prominent political analyst and research fellow at the Helen Susman Foundation, Aubrey Matshiqi gave his remarks on the issue. Amongst other things, Matshiqi was quoted as saying that the African National Congress (ANC) does not want the expropriation of land without compensation.

“These are just delaying tactics, the ANC will call for a Summit, a research study - the land issue is a vote-catching exercise, ANC is clever!” He said.

According to Matshiqi, at the heart of the issue, there are real lives at stake. The disconnect amongst citizens is that if the issue does not affect you, the land question is an obfuscation. However, for those who are affected directly, it is the reality that reminds them of historical injustices.

“The question is do we all belong here? Does South Africa belong to all who live it? Do all races have the same claim to South Africa?” Matshiqi posed these questions which heated a debate amongst the delegates.

On the other hand, Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shack-dwellers' movement in South Africa campaigning against evictions, proper housing and land ownership, gave a different perspective of how its members are affected by this issue.

Activist and member of Abahlali, Blessing Nyoni told delegates at the forum that while SA celebrates Freedom Day, Abahlali are mourning what was meant to be freedom for everyone living in the country for the past 24 years.

“We have been informing the government that there is no real freedom without land for living close to urban centers where we can access jobs, without decent housing for all, when we still face brutal evictions from our camps. Land must be collectively owned”.

Nyoni said that social value of the land must come before the economic value, that lives are being lost while the land debate is going on.

She added that civil society must continue to address these issues and to challenge those in power to deliver on their promises.

The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA) presented their organization’s perspective of the land issue, as to how it affects farm/rural dwellers in the KZN Midlands and in other parts of KZN where their work is largely focused.

“The land imbalance in the country needs to be addressed urgently”, said Nompumelelo Mthimunye from AFRA.

According to Mthimunye, farmland is predominantly in the hands of the white people, and that there has been a slow pace in addressing labor related issues concerning farm dwellers. AFRA representatives argued that if there are to be constitutional amendments to Section 25, labor tenants could be used as a starting point or test case in order to ensure that ordinary farm dwellers are protected from potential injustices about land expropriation.

The presentations from both the civil society organizations and Matshiqi’s analysis heated a debate amongst the delegates, some who believe that we cannot have a progressive engagement on land redistribution if South Africa remains just a geographical location, a land without a real identity, “it was meant to be called Azania”, said one of the delegates.

The Forum was convened by DDP in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) Foundation of Germany. DDP is a civil society organization that is based in Durban KwaZulu Natal. The organization has been supporting and deepening democracy in South Africa for over 20 years through mobilization of citizens towards collective and active citizenry.