When the South African president Cyril Ramaphosa assured the Zulu leader King Goodwill Zwelithini last week that the national government had no intention of grabbing land held by or interfering with the Ingonyama Trust, he tugged the tail of a sleeping dragon.
It is a dragon that might well return to devour him.
Not one to neither take a sideways step and bypass the slumbering serpent nor take a lesson from St George the Martyr, Mr Ramaphosa sheathed his sword. Instead, he should have ripped out his blade; challenged the beast and moved in for the kill.
It was an opportunity that he will come to rue someday soon as discussions about land ownership and repatriation heats up before a decision in late August. That there needs to be some form of land reform is not in question. Ever since the Native Lands Act of 1913 and through various bits of legislation including the Group Areas Act of 1950, the vast majority of South Africans were deprived of and excluded from owing land.
Land reform may lead to a redistribution of wealth and a level playing field in a country where the overwhelming rate of poverty is high.
The Ingonyama Trust holds large parcels of land for Zulus in the KZN region. King Goodwill controls the Trust.
On its website the Ingonyama Trust states it “was established in 1994 by the erstwhile KwaZulu Government in terms of the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act, (Act No 3KZ of 1994) to hold all the land that was hitherto owned or belonged to the KwaZulu Government. The mandate of the Trust was to hold land for the benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the members of the tribes and communities living on the land.”
When the democratic government came into existence initially in terms of the Interim Constitution of 1993 the original enabling Act creating Ingonyama Trust was reviewed comprehensively such that the final product was a new Act albeit called the Amendment Act. This Amendment Act had to meet all the constitutional requirements both in terms of the Interim Constitution and the final Constitution of 1996.
Under the current law, King Goodwill is the sole trustee. And in the fall out over repatriation of land, a panel led by the former president Kgalema Motlanthe recommended that the Ingonyama Trust Act be repealed and that the Ingonyama Trust be dissolved. The panel found that the trust’s current practices were inconsistent with the government’s land policy and it did not secure land tenure for residents.
This is a view shared by the Economic Freedom Front who broke ranks with the ANC to call for the dissolution of the trust.
When Mr Ramaphosa met with King Goodwill it was a great opportunity to spell this out very clearly to the Zulu king no matter the spear rattling and chants of bloodletting by aggrieved Zulus. But the president clearly did not want to upset the Zulu leader.
There is no democratic republic of KZN. The Ingonyama Trust debacle is an anachronism that has to be fixed before there is any meaningful way forward as the government leans heavily towards land reform without compensation. The focus seems to be mainly on farm land while metropolitan land has escaped attention. This does not matter as unhoused poor and squatter camp residents eye off the leafy suburbs with desire.
But when it comes to deceiving the millions of impoverished South Africans living in squatter camps and locations dotted across the country there seems to be little enthusiasm to set the record straight. Poor South Africans who live in appalling conditions have this crazy notion that sometime soon they will get free housing.
Some even believe they may benefit from property that will be removed from previously advantaged people. Well to put it bluntly, there are some who believe whites will be kicked out of their homes and the homes will be made freely available to the poor or needy.
Of course this will never happen. Land reform without payment is theft whichever way you look at it.
South Africa is a signatory to many international treaties for a start and even if the government wished to reclaim land without compensation by tweaking Constitutional guarantees, the international reverberations will be nothing short of cataclysmic. The economy will suffer, the rand will crash. South Africa will again be an international pariah just like it was during the apartheid era.
This sad state of affairs already has given cold comfort to individuals and groups who have staked out parcels of land in Mitchells Plain and other areas of Cape Town believing they have an entitlement to free property. It will never happen.
It has also given rise to splinter groups feasting on appalling racism to secure special privileges and land claims for coloureds in Cape Town. One particular group has been lobbying to have black people returned to the Eastern Cape from where they came.
So why does the national government not intervene and boldly advise that no one ever gets a free house and land package anywhere on this earth. Houses and land are bought. You must work and work and work and save and save until you have the deposit. Then you have to go to your bank and lend the rest. Only then can you buy your house – and probably pay it off for nearly the rest of your life.
If there is anything that can be learned from this land reform exercise then surely it is the need for a great improvement in basic education and a proper work ethic that enables people to strive towards attainable goals. The government must focus on job creation programs that will empower the people and set them on the road to self-sufficiency and home ownership.
Meanwhile, parliament is continuing to hold land reform hearing up until the end of this month. The Constitutional Review Committee has undertaken a nationwide tour of public hearings on the possible review of Section 25 of the Constitution to make it possible for the state to expropriate land without compensation.
All this has scared off a group of about 15,000 Boer farmers who have considered plans of moving to Russia which remains relatively underpopulated for its size. The Russians are believed to have offered a welcoming hand to thousands of white South African farmers into its borders to boost its agricultural industry.
According to a Russian news channel Rossiya 1 TV, the plan is for the first 30 families to first establish themselves before more follow. Each family is said to be willing to bring at least R1.4 million ($100,000) with them to lease land in Russia and kick-start their farming efforts.
The views expressed on this blog are entirely my own. Feel free to use this material with suitable accreditation. Research material is included.
Dr Hilton Kolbe is a writer and journalist.
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