Land ownership is a major problem in modern South Africa because it goes to the heart of all of our social problems. The Apartheid project resulted in millions of people no longer living on land that for generations belonged to their ancestors, while also engineering a distorted and unjust urban migration. Our cities and towns remain racially divided and our rural areas are a political hot potato where fear is easily exploited by political opportunists. White farmers feel persecuted and deeply insecure. Black farmers are marginalised from economic networks. Racial separation in towns and cities divide us politically.
I sat down with Greg from Crossings Travel to hear his thoughts on the matter. I asked Greg if he thought that South Africa might go the same route as Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s reign when land was forcibly taken from white farmers.
Greg: “It’s hard to predict the future, but I think South Africa has a greater number of institutional protections and economic complexity so it’s harder to draw exact parallels and to me it’s seems unlikely that SA will go down the Zimbabwe route. But, if we don’t address the land issue, all bets are off.
Attempts to redress land dispossession have had mixed results. The complexity of the problem makes almost every attempt to redress the past fraught with unintended consequences and unforeseen problems.
For instance in Cape Town, the primary issue is the history of forced removals from areas like District Six. The surviving ex-residents of D6 and their descendents are now scattered all over the Cape flats and are a far larger section of the population than could ever be accommodated in the remaining land of District 6. Some are well established in new communities, while most are suffering the long term social trauma of ghettoisation. Large tracts of D6 remain undeveloped but in other areas of Cape Town where people were removed, the neighbourhoods are now occupied.
Can one adequately quantify the value of the land and compensate for the trauma that resulted from dispossession? There isn’t enough money to be able to afford buying back land in the hands of those who now occupy disposed land and calculations of estimated economic loss to those who were disposed rise exponentially to the point of boggling even the most capable quantity surveyor.
If you simply return the land, will this actually benefit recipients or create more problems, and who should be the recipient of the land and on what conditions? Compensation has benefitted some families, while dividing others. Some recipients of new housing in D6 have already fostered a new community but a small minority have been left open to exploitation by criminal elements – sometimes within their own families.
Everyone agrees that something should be done. It’s the mechanics of the solution that bogs us down. And a testament to how bogged down we are is that the empty land of District 6, which is now prime real estate in the heart of the city, remains vacant – a scar from our past that refuses to heal… over 50 years later.
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