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Whose land is it anyway?

By Kgomotso Mamello Motshidi

When I think of the land debate, I wonder how far back in history we are willing to go in order to resolve this thorny issue. Sparks have been flying subsequent to Deputy Minister Pieter Mulder’s presentation in Parliament regarding his version of history.

The Khoisan group recently made a request to the department of rural affairs and land reform to be recognised as the indigenous people of South Africa and have their land claims assessed. Rightfully so, archeological findings attest to the fact that the late Stone Age people resemble today’s Khoisan people. They were hunter gatherers who occupied the southern part of Africa. The Africans migrated southward around 3500 years ago from West and Central Africa, seeking new fields and bringing their knowledge of cattle farming. As tribes began to settle, communities such as the Mapungubwe emerged, establishing early civilisations. Later on, the 17th century saw the arrival of Europeans when Jan van Riebeck was charged with establishing a port in the Cape by the Dutch East India Company. The Europeans extended their reach inland beyond the Cape Colony due to the discovery of gold and diamonds in the 1800s.

Then fast forward to the 20th century. The turning point of our history was when we became the Union of South Africa in 1910. The Native Land Act of 1913 was passed, allocating only 7% of the land to the majority of inhabitants. The law restricted ownership of land for African inhabitants, including the Khoisan. This caused socio-economic challenges as it formed a cornerstone that ushered in segregation laws. In retrospect, our current laws on land restitution are addressing the imbalance of the past that we are seeing the repercussions of today.

What is important is for the incumbent government to communicate that there are comprehensive land reform policies addressing the past injustices. On the other hand, the ideology of ‘redistribution of land without compensation’ defeats the purpose of what is constitutionally covered on the issue of land reform. It creates nostalgia of seeing the ‘exodus of Europeans on their ships’, and the ‘original’ inhabitants taking over.

Issues of land reform are not exclusive to Africa; the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East, and Serbia and Kosovo in Europe are pertinent examples. When we look at our neighbors in Sub-Saharan Africa, the issue of land resulted in civil wars and deterioration in economies.

As South Africans, we need to ensure our approach is one that will build our nation, not sow seeds of division. If we had to apply the redistribution of land to the original inhabitants policy, then the Khoisan have a strong case against all of us. It will leave us with divisions and no definite answer to the question: Whose land is it anyway?

Kgomotso Mamello Motshidi is an MBA in International Business candidate. She worked for one of the world’s largest Fortune 500 technology companies as a strategic customer advisor to public sector and corporate clients. She loves travelling, good food and the beats of Amadodana Ase Wesile.

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