Touted as one of Africa’s biggest economies, South Africa is on the verge of a nasty land conflict. The thorny issue has been avoided by most presidents and nationalists preferring a soft approach towards the growing inequality in the country. Independence remains only on paper and nothing on the ground. Uncle Sam has warned that it will retaliate if South Africa dares to undertake a land reform in its nation. But gone are the days when the issue could be averted. It is now or never for politicians to confront the issue. However, the question remains – how will they confront it?
Black people in South Africa like most blacks in post-colonial African nations have long been deprived of property rights. During the apartheid era which was a system of legal segregation based on race and color, the land was an inalienable right that was exercisable almost only by whies. The derogatory system threw black people into the vagaries of poverty and slavery. Such a system was sustained by brute force, thwarting down any attempts black nationalist leaders made to change the status quo. Revolutionaries such as Steve Biko had to pay the ultimate price of the sacrifice of death in fighting the war of independence.
Colonial masters realized that stripping away property rights from the indigenous South Africans would suppress any sort of independence that might have threatened their power. However, after South Africa attained independence in 1994, black South Africans remain impoverished, left alone in the peripheries of the most unproductive land even though nationalist leaders were now in control of the levers of power.
The land issue has turned out to be complex than most people think. An example is Zimbabwe's land reform which ended up in chaos. The difficulty in dealing with the issue is that the owners of the land will in most cases not want to give away the land. This sums up why the willing buyer willing seller principle has called upon by the Lancaster Agreement could not work in Zimbabwe. White farmers who constituted less than 2% of the society-owned 90 plus percent of the nation's arable land whilst the rest of society-owned nothing but their skin, bodies, and God endowed free air. After years of ambivalence, Zimbabwe pushed the red button and initiated land reform, albeit doing it chaotically.
Today, South Africa is faced with the same dilemma. Nationalist leaders like Julius Malema have unapologetically called for the government to begin the process of land reform. The sad truth is that black South Africans have not enjoyed the fruits of independence. Statistics show that the economy is still owned by whites with over 65% of land still ousted from the control of blacks. It is quite easy to peer through the long-term ramifications of extreme poverty if South Africa does not radically confront this growing inequality. We have seen chaos erupting when the inequality becomes so steep that it is irreconcilable. The French Revolution for instance was a culmination of the deep inequality that existed between the classes. Louis XV1’s fate was ended by the guillotine after a hunger-stricken mob invaded his palace.
The reality of most African independence struggles has yielded mere political freedom. Real independence has not yet been attained. Colonial masters remain in control of the factors of production thus maintaining monopolies over the economy. The political elite has also fallen prey to the dangerous whims of materialism which has seen them siphoning funds out of the country through various shadow networks and offshore accounts. In all of this, African populations remain in a perpetual web of dependency which entrenches an endless cycle of psychological inferiority. The political elite relies on their former oppressive masters for aid.
However, this state of affairs cannot be sustained. In certain instances when an oppressor refuses to release the oppressed from his chains and yokes, the oppressed should be prepared to fight. The fact of the matter remains that the land issue is inescapable. Admittedly, the issue is far complex than we can imagine. However, it still ought to be confronted.
Just as nationalist leaders had to take up arms against the illegal colonial settlers, so should today's leaders. In either way, the results are nasty. Ignoring the issue is even nastier because the long-term ramifications will inevitably tear the nation apart. Karl Marx's stated that there is always friction between classes and at some point, the differences will reach untenable and irreconcilable differences which result in either two things. First, the oppressed class might violently dispose of the upper class and form a new establishment.
This has been true of many revolutionary movements all over the world. For instance, the Americans only emancipated themselves from British rule through armed struggle. The same has been true for uprisings against despotic regimes all over. The second option is that the upper class will be forced to concede certain rights and privileges and a new class emerges. This has been largely true for instance when the ancient roman plebians forced the elite patricians to cede certain rights to it. The result was that the plebians who had been considered middle class also took the reigns of the elite upper class. In any event, the 2 options have nasty consequences no matter how they are applied.
Inequality breeds and harbors some of the most dangerous emotions. The revolutions of Spartacus for example which was a slave revolt against the oppressive Roman rule only took those feelings of oppression to ignite a revolt that shook the empire.
It is now or never for South Africa. The nationalist leaders cannot remain scared and hiding under the guise of property rights. The risk history repeating itself. It is time black leaders took control and took responsibility for their policies.