We cannot talk about ownership of land only. We must also talk about a host of economic injustices that colonialism and then apartheid dealt blacks and coloureds in South Africa. South African land distribution and questions around this hot topic are increasingly finding themselves in South Africans' mouths. Whether at work, church, in the streets, at school or any personal space, this topic is gaining more airtime by the day in discourse. While this may be the case, it is chiefly engaged around ownership. This must be broadened to legal, economic, moral and ethical, social and political questions about how Africans were dispossessed and how to deal with the perverse distribution of wealth in post-colonial, post-apartheid, South Africa.
There are some things that are included in the broad discourse about land that people hardly mention. A piece by Talal Asmal titled Is The Land Question A Real Issue? An Alternative Viewpointtried to take a moderate view on the topic by centring ownership and, too some extent, probing current redistribution policies on how the land is or will be used after redistribution. The author highlighted that land ownership meant different things to Africans compared to European settlers, rightly so. What the author did not mention is that this difference is not only on legal or economic grounds of ownership but also on political and, moral and ethical foundations.
1. Pay back the wage
These are labour and legal practises that resulted in unpaid and underpaid labour. This saw, for example, how mining companies have excess profits because of the low cost of labour which was supported by government policies, using taxes, laws and many state instruments to create the perfect migrant labour system.
2. Pay back the profits
There is also the denied and restricted entrepreneurial opportunity that is alluded to in a story that is in Thabo Mbeki's A dream deferred. This was made possible by laws that were passed to deny blacks from being entrepreneurial or competing with whites or from selling to other races except blacks, depending on the time in history. So I guess blacks weren't exclusively consumers but also producers which is why the apartheid government needed to make it illegal for us to be enterprising.
3. Pay back the rent
The land was stolen – I thought there was a general consensus on this already – hence the current land redistribution policies, as limited and problematic as the policies are. If it was not stolen, then why was there a need for colonialists and apartheid rulers to pass laws to transfer land from blacks to whites using forced removals among many other things and then restricting land ownership by blacks? This was legal theft, legitimised by applying white supremacy and European arrogance, through foreign and powerful systems in Africa.
This not only meant blacks lost the financial capital they could have received had they sold their land to whites; but also rental income or subsistence that would have come from it. In fact there are many laws that were passed that stripped and restricted blacks from owning fertile land and criminalised black commercial farmers. Generations passed and all that knowledge and desire died out. It is no wonder we do not have blacks farming on a massive scale today. Again were those laws created to fill up legislature's books?
4. Pay back the interest
There was also capital stolen, cattle and mineral resources (in Africa they equate to financial capital) and ideas, Of course this too was accompanied by a host of laws that stripped blacks of capital. Whether it was stealing ideas from blacks, their ability to increase their human capital or material possessions that they have and their land possessions or denying blacks from accumulating any capital and restricting them from owning anything, this was daylight robbery.
5. Pay the reparations
Then to concretise these laws, which already carried a lot of weight and were literally life-threatening, came the secondary ways of legitimising these evil laws through religion and education. Explanations of African land being unoccupied, inevitable black suffering and white saving were conjured up. Science was abused by propagation of Social Darwinism. The media and education were the tools used used to eliminate all elements that would make a white person identify on a human level with black people. This was replaced with the "these people" thinking we hear even today. The removal of black pride by creating hopelessness and suffering and replacing it with the definition of an employer as umlungu was used deliberately. This was supported by the created poverty that saw blacks work for, or seek work from, whites.
The sad reality is that not only was the public sector guilty of these crimes but so was the private sector, as it was in cahoots with them and benefited from the colonial system and apartheid regime. When business and the reserve bank were confronted about their role in apartheid and the embezzlement of funds before the ushering in of democracy, during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, they pled ignorance and gave a nominal apology – a real apology would have seen the reparations' pot filled to the brim.
Therefore economically and politically the land question is at the heart of economic freedom of black and coloured South Africans. In addition we cannot forget the violence (physical, emotional, linguistic, economic, epistemic, cultural and social) that was suffered by blacks and coloureds under colonialism and apartheid. Sorry, Helen. Compensation and repayment for this is due. We need to be honest that the wealth of white South Africans is not from the sweat of whites' work but from the tears of blacks' suffering. So we cannot talk about ownership of land only. We must also talk about a host of economic injustices that colonialism and then apartheid dealt blacks and coloureds in South Africa.