The centenary commemoration of the 1913 native Land Act will stir up bitter memories and emotions, judging by ANC MPS behaviour in Parliament, says Athol Trollip.

THE budget debate in the National Assembly for the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform on May 31 this year, turned into a regrettable incident of invective-filled mudslinging. Invective goes with parliamentary territory the world over, but when it is allowed to be tainted and distorted through a racial prism in a post-apartheid, constitutionally democratic Parliament, it should be a cause for grave concern for all.

The debate was always going to be a heated one, especially on the eve of the commemoration of the 1913 Natives Land Act (Act 27 of 1913) and the fact that the specifically established Rural Development and Land Reform Department has acquitted itself so poorly in fulfilling its mandate. As is the case when any government over-promises and under-delivers, it must seek the proverbial scapegoats to blame their sub-optimal performance on.

The chosen scapegoat has been the so-called policy of “willing buyer, willing seller”.

The governing party (ANC) has apportioned all blame relating to the failure of land restitution, land reform and rural development on this sole issue and has frankly ridden this “sway-backed” excuse to death.

The ANC policy conference prior to its electoral conference at Mangaung proposed to scrap the model of willing buyer, willing seller.

The proposal was subsequently endorsed at the elective conference and the constitutional provisions in Section 25 of the Bill of Rights are now to be used in conjunction with the provisions of amended expropriation legislation.

This is the sensible if not entirely credible way of dealing with constraints that might militate against the government achieving its quantitative land reform objectives of transforming 30% of “white” owned commercial farm land by next year.

Many of the constraints that have caused the government to fail are ironically of their own doing. They haven’t established how much land could have been transferred to black South African beneficiaries if they hadn’t chosen rather to accept cash settlements in lieu of their restitution claims. Neither do they know how much privately held land is in black hands.

Lastly, despite minister Gugile Nkwinti’s dogged claims in Parliament, the department doesn’t have a credible and comprehensive land audit.

If they did, they would surely have provided a comprehensive report in this regard and not merely provided an amateurish “bar graph” reflection of land ownership patterns across the country.

When the government’s specialpurpose Department of “Rural Development and Land Reform” and its minister came under predictable “fire” for under-performance (the department itself admits to meeting only 55% of its targeted programmes), the resultant reaction from a defensive chairperson, all ANC portfolio committee members and the minister was frankly alarming.

The first member (ANC) in the debate to expose the ANC’s “slip” (petticoat) was Mandla Mandela.

His diatribe about my forebearers having killed his forebearers to acquire my farm land was instructive for various reasons. Firstly, it was clear his assault was premeditated, in that he had studied my families genealogy in order to reinforce his prejudicial attack on a sixth-generation descendant of an original settler, Joseph Trollip Snr.

Secondly, it was abundantly clear this assault – if not done with the ANC’s consent – was met with much favour and enthusiasm by his colleagues in the governing benches, including the portfolio chairperson, Stone Sizani and Nkwinti.

What makes this latter point all the more concerning is the fact that Mandela chose to turn his back on the principle of reconciliation so exemplarily promoted by his illustrious grandfather, former president Nelson Mandela.

That he chose to travel a much more provocative and interminable path of recrimination is his own choice as an individual. But that his behaviour was supported and even applauded by the minister of rural development and land reform does not augur well for the future of our country, not for land reform, nor rural development of previously disadvantaged areas and communities.

The minister’s concluding remarks that he regards any reference to South Africa’s land reform programme being likened to what happened in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe as an honour/compliment is a dark portent of things to come in this critically poignant and historical centenary year.

If the ANC chooses to lay all the blame at the feet of white landowners for all the bloodletting that took place over the past three centuries in South Africa, they will be making a grave error that will do nothing for nation-building.

This is a process and not an event that came and went in 1994 or after the retirement of our most famous president who was the architect of the “Rainbow Nation”.

What South Africans, especially dispossessed and landless South Africans that wish to farm need, is a credible and transparent programme of land reform that identifies appropriate beneficiaries who will get all the necessary skills capacitation, ongoing post settlement support in the form of extension service provision, and preferential financial support until they are able to sustain themselves.

Sloganeering and scapegoating is the practice of failing governments, not that of successful nations.

I want to be part of and play my part in a successful nation as a South African, not in the language of Mandla Mandela, “a bloodthirsty white South African”.


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