Let’s talk about land…

Constantia, Western Cape
Land over Constantia Winelands in Cape Town. A lot, if not all of this land is owned by small white families.
At the ripe age of just under 30, there aren’t a lot of us who can say that they have lived through an actual land reform. I, being Zimbabwean,  (un)fortunately have. It is a privilege!  And as we all well know, those who speak from a position of privilege, often tend to forget to check it. For this one installment, I would like you to allow me, to display some tendencies and speak from that position I don’t often speak from much.

Land reform in Zimbabwe…

I come from a very underprivileged background and at the time the question of land was introduced to me, I was 12. As such, the mere idea of a “land reform” was for me the biggest prospect I could even possibly imagine. Images of the poor owning land and building and farming and buying and selling and eating and traveling ravaged my mind and it was one of the most intriguing thoughts I could dream of – almost like that feeling you got as a kid, going to bed on Christmas eve, knowing there would be new clothes waiting in the morning. Even without knowing for certain if there would be any clothes, or if you would even like them – we still went to bed excited!

In Zimbabwe, a Mugabe-led land reform, enacted by the country’s poor, mobilized by the war veterans, was marred by multiple reports of violence and human rights violations, leading to a fall out with the international community and subsequent economic meltdown.

And then it happened! Land Reform! Farms were seized and redistributed, and some of the methods and motives were questionable (– this is not a political statement, all this information is available, simply go to google for all available varying opinions).

The immediate outcome was scary! The people had the land, but no methods, tools but no knowledge, plots but no materials, plates but no food, pockets but no money. It was a nightmare! I do not speak for others, but my personal circumstances got worse – jobs were lost, small out-the-window businesses closed etc. In a couple years my situation legitimately seemed to get direr and so did the country (again honestly, just google all this). The measurable success of the program in Zimbabwe still polarizes opinions at every level to this day. 

Fast forward 18 years…

The one thing easy to measure is the number of Zimbabweans who emigrated  after the 2000 land reform – which in my opinion was in itself an economic indicator, a single measurable result of the Land Reform. Post 2000, Zimbabwe lost a large chunk of its young generation of both skilled and unskilled labor to neighboring countries and abroad – a trend still continuing to date. It has long been argued that the high unemployment rates , caused by the closure of a lot of the countries industries, a lack of monetary resources, and at one time an all out economic collapse can all be attributed as the driving force behind this mass exodus.

South Africa. An African economic powerhouse. A land of promise and dreams for many locals and foreigners alike.

Myself, forced by my own set of circumstances, settled in Cape Town 8 years ago and since then have been struggling to find my place in this city. And 18 years after my own, I am finding myself at the edge of yet another impending land reform. I am no prophet of doom, and neither do I wish harm on any man nor his property, but I speak from experience and there are signs that South Africa is on the verge of reform. Allow me to explain…

Hello Cape Town, maybe not so nice to meet you?

There is a very clear distinction between the rich and the poor of the general Western Cape as a whole, and particularly in my home for 8 years, Cape Town.

Khayelitsha , Cape Town
Most black and colored people live in poorly serviced, highly populated and mostly informal settlements in “Locations” such as Khayelitsha above.
A clear indication of this dissimilarity can be seen by the population demographics of the city’s neighborhoods. The poor colored and black communities mostly occupy the heavily populated ‘Locations’ and ‘Cape Flats’*, while the

Camps Bay, Cape Town
“Good” neighborhoods such as beachside Camps Bay above are often very pricey in rentals putting them out of the range of the poorer races.









‘fancier’ or ‘nicer’ neighborhoods are largely white populated*. The trend is the same in opportunities and business and even on a night out on the streets – you remember the “2 Blacks” fiasco at a popular city hangout that rocked social media way way way back when…? (I honestly felt inclined to insert lol here!)

Land Reform is South Africa.

The authors of colonialism knew that a land claim was always going to be inevitable, even as their influence spread all over the world, and they built reserves of whatever they could find. The plan was to raid, conceal, and enslave until such a time as when the claim would be made. And this is where we find ourselves now. At the dawn of the Era of Reclamation, where people have had just about enough of the imbalance of wealth and power that everyday conversation easily boils over into issues of race, land and equality.

By Pierre F. Lombard [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
A scene from a Cape Town housing protest demanding tax structure changes to have the rich subsidize housing for the poor.
It is not easy to cast a blind eye to the protests that are rocking the province over the last 6 – 8 years and the reasons behind the protest just simply boils down to land. The protests take many forms from service delivery, to housing and even bus strikes with this article on thesouthafican.com reporting that “there were 140 protests in the first 4 months of the year alone.” Now, this article on Wikipedia states that Zimbabwe’s fast track land repossession program that culminated in the reported violence, was started by the countries poor, mobilized by the war veterans, who marched on white owned spaces first in song and dance and then eventually… Do you see where I am going with this?

My opinion on Zim’s land reform?

Well, initially it was a disaster. A lot of people suffered and a lot of people lost. The economy collapsed. International relations broke down. It was so bad at one time that the country lost its own currency and a lot of “productive age” people where “brain-drained abroad – and this is the section of the population any country does not want to lose. And yet ask me again 18 years later and the stories I tell you are different. As I move to acquire my little piece of this world as someone at my age does, I can now declare that I know peers of mine, ex school comrades even who own land at the age of 30 or less that is neither bonded  nor lease . I know people back home  that own farming land, and/or cars and/or houses that are without rent or monthly debit orders. So was the program such a failure at the end of the day? Because this to me is what true emancipation is!

Where does that leave South Africa?

With the situation in South Africa almost boiling over, the country’s very own land reform draws inevitably closer, and for any resident this should be priority number one.  There is no question as to whether land reform should happen in the country, given the status quo, since the answer is a definite yes! And there an urgent need to find resolve much sooner than later as the country is sitting on a knife edge with regards to the relationship between the rich and the poor.

However, the question now becomes, what does the South African youth, the future generation understand about the forthcoming revolution? Are the youth here better equipped now than the people in Zimbabwe were when they got land even though most have only recently started reaping the benefits and after years of waiting? Are the youth ready to take up the resources and keep production going, without creating an economic vacuum such as was seen in Zimbabwe?

By Gary van der Merwe [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
EFF leader Julius Malema is one of many SA politicians that are pushing for land reform. He has as such been labeled a racist or a revolutionary by the opposing sides of the land debate.
What could the South African government do to better equip the people for what’s next and avoid the complete halt that happened next door? And as for policy making with regards to land issues, could the country turn into another Kenya that seems to bee stuck in the loop of policy making on land issues, rather than effecting standing policy? But that’s a discussion for another day…