Sam Matiase28 June 2024 | 15:40

SAM MATIASE: Helen Zille’s distortions on land use and ownership are twisted and misleading

Zille’s utterances on land in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, implying the inability for the local black populace in these areas to use the land productively, are misled, but unsurprising, writes Sam Matiase.

SAM MATIASE: Helen Zille’s distortions on land use and ownership are twisted and misleading

DA federal chairperson Helen Zille at the national IEC results centre on 30 May 2024. Picture: Jacques Nelles/Eyewitness News

For the dispossessed, landless and homeless African majority, land is both material and symbolic. It is also a factor of production, livelihood and a site of belonging and identity. 

This, the descendants of colonial settlers of European extraction like Helen Zille will not comprehend. 

Zille’s utterances on land in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, implying the inability of the local black populace in these areas to use the land productively, are misleading, but unsurprising. 

People like Zille know the truth, but as usual, they often use their knowledge to peddle lies and present their version of lies as truth. She, like many, knows the value and the importance of land, and that is why her ancestors, amongst the very first things they did on arrival, was to acquire and settle on land as their own, through theft. 

They claimed it as their ‘own’ by enacting laws that enabled the marauding settler land thieves unbridled, unmediated and limitless powers to make determinations over who owns and controls land in this country. 

White people know that land has the potential to transform the lives of people in unimaginably meaningful ways, and this is why Zille invested so much time in distorting and twisting facts about land ownership patterns and land use in South Africa. 

It is a fact that land use and productivity in the Western Cape and other provinces with large white capital investments are proportionally higher than areas historically designated as ‘reserves’ or Bantustans. 

This land is pathetically unusable for any meaningful agriculture – it is barren – good for nothing. Colonial and apartheid regimes did not invest in rural land for this reason.    

What causes great fear and nervousness for Zille the most is the awakening awareness and rising land consciousness among the landless masses of the people. 

This is why she persistently peddles the narrative of ‘good and productive’ land in white hands versus ‘bad and unproductive’ land in black hands. She knows that access to land has the potential to create livelihood opportunities and improve the quality of life of millions of rural poor and vulnerable communities if it is used for social and economic benefit. 

She knows that if access to land can be unlocked, it will be used to address historical injustices, inequality, and segregation caused by apartheid, racial discrimination and subjugation which was meted out against black people as a whole.   

It is undeniable that the 1994 pact and concessions between the ANC and whites cemented the ownership of not just land, but all property, firmly in white hands through the 1996 Constitution. 

Therefore, for Zille to spread falsehoods while simultaneously refusing, along with other landowners, to pay reparations to the victims of land dispossession and obstructing all efforts for legal and constitutional land expropriation is disingenuous and mischievous.

For its part, the post-apartheid government introduced an ambitious programme of land redistribution, restitution, and land tenure reform to achieve transformation. 

Unfortunately, these programmes have yielded little results, and the State failed to implement them due to three main factors and barriers, which Zille will not mention. 

These factors are one, Section 25, which has embedded property rights in the Constitution; two, the determined unwillingness of the so-called land owners to release land to be distributed on an equitable basis to all those who need land; and three, State or government failure to provide post-settlement support to communities and individual beneficiaries of land redistribution, restitution, and land tenure reform for labour tenants and farmworkers.

The post-1994 government harboured counter-productive illusions when it entered into agreements with the apartheid regime, and consequently shot itself in the foot. 

The African National Congress (ANC) government held a highly flawed and distorted view of the rural economy, where poverty and severely twisted access to resources and infrastructure are permanently stubborn and defining features. 

As a result, the post-1994 accords not only failed to address this issue but reinforced it under the guise of recognising and protecting property rights.

Private ownership and control of land by white-owned commercial farms and corporations continues to dominate the agrarian economy as shaped by both apartheid colonialism and the dynamics since 1994. 

This brings us to an additional mistake the post-apartheid government made, which was not directly and decisively intervening in land redistribution, but rather opting for the minimalist and gradual approach to buy land on market-related prices from private land owners based on the flawed policy of “willing buyer, willing seller”. 

This has led to countless miseries suffered by farmworkers at the hands of white-owned commercial farms, including continuous eviction and displacement of black farm labour families. 

It has reproduced barbaric and semi-feudal social relations based on a perpetual state of racial paternalistic 'baaskap’, fostering hatred and a deep sense of revenge on both sides. 

Black farmworkers labour and suffer today under similar conditions as under the Master and servant laws which regulated and, to a great extent, shaped pre-capitalist patriarchal social and production relations on these white farms. 

Features of these social and production relations are alive and still very evident today, as they were more than a century ago, and permeated society in all aspects of public life – from a farm to a big city like Cape Town.    

This is why land remains a highly politically charged social and economic issue and the source of ongoing conflict in South Africa. Consequently, conflicts due to competing class interests, the social and economic importance attached to the land, and government failures have continued to intensify since the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which brought the land question back to the forefront and placed it firmly on the table.

The legacy of apartheid and colonialism in South Africa has extremely skewed land ownership and land use patterns where most black people do not own productive agricultural land and productive capital to invest. Zille is lying to say there is a huge track of productive land in the hands of or owned by black people. 

Even if this were the case, such land would need significant recapitalisation, with revised structural relations in ownership patterns, land use, and management practices, to boost productivity and investment incentives.

Until that happens, beneficiaries of land theft should reconsider the urgent need to encourage their kith and kin in Britain to pay reparations to the victims who endured enormous suffering and untold hardships due to the colonial and apartheid policies.

Sam Matiase is an EFF Member of Parliament.