The past year was the centenary of the infamous 1913 Natives Land Act, which belonged to a group of laws and policies used by the then government to dispossess black people of land in South Africa. Using this law, the government set aside only 7% of the country’s land for legal occupation by black people. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) dubbed 2013 the year government aimed to “reverse” the legacy of the act.
The jury is out, however, on how much has happened in that regard. Have we seen a significant change in government’s effort?
The DRDLR travelled around the country discussing the reversal of the impact of this law, but I have seen very little change.
I suppose it would be unrealistic of me to think that the government could solve this problem in one year. But we have to keep in mind that it has had the opportunity to reverse this legacy since 1994. It looks as if the more things change, the more they stay the same. Proof of this is in rural communities, where, almost 20 years later, there is still no change.
One of the ways in which the dispossession of land was made effective was through the imposition of chiefs and tribal authorities. Yet this system still exists! When it comes to land issues, the authorities today operate in almost the same way as those of yesteryear.
Back then, they believed that traditional chiefs were more suitable to make decisions where communal land was concerned. And where there were no chiefs, they would be put in place. The government of the day had its reasons for pushing through the system, and it seems as if the democratic government in turn is using the very same system to put through its own agenda.
Otherwise, why hasn’t there been any real change? It is alleged that the government keeps traditional leaders happy in order to secure votes. It is shocking that after so many years, people in communal areas under such leaders still have absolutely no say when it comes to the land on which they reside. This has made it easy for big companies, especially mines, to access land in communal areas, since they have to negotiate only with the chief and not with the community. The result has been numerous conflicts in mining villages, such as in the North West.
It also amazes me that after almost 20 years, some communities, after successfully claiming land through the restitution process, still have no title deeds. This applies particularly to communities not under tribal authorities but which have formed Communal Property Associations. A good example is the Wallmansthal people.
The delays in resolving these land problems have had a serious impact on residents in rural communal areas. Because they have limited, if any, rights to the land on which they live, development is slow. Without a law that governs traditional leaders and gives people in rural areas rights, the process of reversing the legacy of the 1913 Land Act remains a pipe dream.