The ‘Land Issue’: an Aftermath of Apartheid?

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The after-effects of colonialism are still creating major issues in the world today, the most recent to make the headlines being the ‘Land Issue’ in South Africa, which centres itself in a racial and political dispute. Essentially, this is about the unequal share of land between South Africa’s white and black populations. The statistics clearly demonstrate this inequality, as while roughly 80 per cent of South Africa’s population are people of colour, they only hold 13 per cent of the land.  

These tensions have manifested in an increase of murders that often target landowners. The Guardian reported that, between April 2017 and March 2018, the police recorded 62 murders during 58 attacks on farms in South Africa, of which 52 victims were the owners, and 46 of the murder victims were white.  

But why do the majority of South Africa’s population feel so indignant about not holding the majority of the wealth? In many capitalist countries around the world, the distribution of wealth follows a similar story.  

Clearly, the crux of the matter here is one of race which goes deeper, than just skin colour, and to the core of one’s history and identity. The fact that South Africa’s history, and Africa as a whole, has been fully obliterated, churned up and pushed out into a semi-European mould, has led to undeniable feeling of victimisation, as well as a burning desire for validation amongst South Africa’s black population. The effects of slavery, colonialism and apartheid have not left the black population feeling fragile and out in the cold, but instead have reignited a residing sense of entitlement to the land which should be theirs and only theirs, as it was prior to Europe’s colonisation. Is this feeling justified?  

Present day Western and European involvement in Africa as a whole is one of economic and military dominance following a highly exploitative nature. The possibility of commodity specification reoccurs through China’s expansion, making Africa provide 35 percent of its oil. The United States military’s involvement through AFRICOM, on which its ‘humanitarian’ mission spouts a similar rhetoric as to the colonialists ‘civilising’ mission, is yet another example. 

The line of thought is clear: the West is still exploiting Africa for its own gain, providing yet another reason for the black population to place blame of suffering on anything and anyone associated with the West and therefore retaliate.  

Zanele Lwana, the leader of Black First Land First, stated: “Our people have waited for so long… We are going to get everything that you owe, it’s ours.”  Through the use of “our”, Zanele Lwana is automatically excluding any South African that is of European descent, deeming a South African citizen to be only a person of colour, irreducible to any other ethnic differentiation. The country’s horrific past sufferings have clearly created a confused discourse on identity and what it means to be African and it is now having a serious impact on societal relations.   

To address the land issue, the African National Congress are willing to change the laws of the country that are inadequate to tackle the current problem by removing land from the white farmers and sharing the land more equally. Sounds fair right? However, they are planning to do this without offering any compensation.  

Again, the sense of residing entitlement comes into play here. Yes, Europeans did steal land from Africa and used it for their own gain. And yes, the West are still playing an exploitative, imperial role in Africa’s economy which needs to be addressed and changed. But does this warrant racial murder of South Africa’s white citizens? Does this warrant white farmers being forced to give up land that has been in their family for generations? Race relations in South Africa are clearly problematic and complex, yet to put it simply, retributive action cannot be the answer.  

In modern day South Africa, the colour of your skin should not be an entitlement to a monopoly on land and wealth, white or black. The solution to the racial tensions cannot be the switch in favour of one ethnicity to another. There needs to be serious political and societal direction in shaping a national identity that includes the relatively ‘new’ variations of ethnicities. The tragedies of the past must be accounted for, not repeated. 

Tara Lee

The Gryphon Print Feature Editor