The land is of vital importance as a means of production and without access to it, life becomes inherently difficult. African countries still find themselves in a situation where most of the land belongs to the white minority commercial farmers, and yet millions of black people do not have own land. The ills of colonization still reverberate up to this day and the situation continues to get dire for those who seem to be locked in an unending cycle of poverty.
Julius Malema, the leader of the South African opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters has one clear message – Get The Land Back. His message on land expropriation without compensation is one that must resonate throughout the whole continent. The vast majority of black people remain mired in a quagmire of poverty as they do not have the means to first fend for themselves and also to make surplus that brings in money. When it comes to land, black people are still disempowered.
The message that Malema propagates is one that frightens the elite who own the means of production. It is a message that seeks to bring back power to where it originally belongs. Malema’s argument is not hard to fathom – the colonizers came to Africa and disrupted the way Africans lived, murdered them, raped them, took their land by force and effectively dispossessed them by pushing them to areas with minimum production for a decent human existence. For Malema, there is absolutely no need to have negotiations with white people regarding land because in the first place they did not have negotiations when they took the land by brute force, by committing heinous atrocities against Africans.
For true, genuine economic independence, black people need to take back the land. Black people need to be equipped with the requisite skills for producing optimum yields and being in full charge of their mineral resources, timber, and so forth. It is only with land being in the hands of black people that black people can be freed from the shackles of economic dependence that makes them the most marginalized and suffering group of people in the world. Malema’s insinuation is that the issue of land is a political problem and it requires to be solved politically. The biggest indictment falls on African leaders who, over the years, have failed to meaningfully redress land imbalances among their own people.
Kenya is an example where land imbalances still persist. British colonization disturbed the African land pattern usage and introduced a Western-based economic style that meant that large tracts of land had to be alienated for Europeans to settle. It resulted in the creation of Native Reserves; areas that were characterized by aridity and less production. It brought an end to Kenya’s land abundance and competition for land ensued. For instance, the Maasai herders in the south were restricted to the Maasai Reserve where they were barraged with epidemics of rinderpest (a cattle disease). Worse still, smallpox had reduced the animal and human population.
The colonial legal system in Kenya imposed restrictions on native activities. With a colonial capitalist economy, most Kenyans found themselves looking for jobs in towns, as laborers on European farms as well as laboring in industries. They were faced with high taxes and a rising cost of living on extremely low wages. What the colonial economy imposed on Kenyans was that land was only accessible to those who had wealth and power; land ceased being a traditional right. And such colonial legacies are still palpable today. It was the issue of land that was at the heart of the Mau Mau rebellion. It ultimately led to the independence of Kenya in 1963.
But although post-independence efforts resulted in land redistribution, its scale was not enough to accommodate the millions of black Africans who had been dispossessed by British colonization. At that time, around 3000 white farmers decided to leave Kenya and this land was redistributed to landless Kenyans. The prevailing reality, however, was that land was concentrated in the hands of the Kenyan elite. They obtained lots of land, small as they were, from the departing settlers. The inequalities continued to widen as the population expanded. The politically connected powerfully gained the most productive land for themselves, perpetuating the inequalities orchestrated by the colonizers. Efforts to amend these problems have been affected, but more energy is still of the utmost importance so that land becomes a resource accessible to many.
It is now time for African leaders to take decisive action when it comes to land. Zimbabwe provides a bittersweet example of land redistribution. The only problem with land redistribution in Zimbabwe (noble as it was at the instigation of the late Robert Mugabe) is that it was done in a chaotic, haphazard and shoddy manner such that those who grabbed several farms are not doing any production on them. The government of Zimbabwe has been dilly-dallying with the issue of compensating white farmers, a move that does not inspire confidence to black people since this land was taken from them by the sheer use of force.
Julius Malema is an unwavering man when it comes to the issue of land, and that for true economic independence to be there, black people need to have access to land. We need access to the minerals, to the agricultural produce, and to the timber. As long as African leaders are not ready to implement land redistribution programs in a way beneficial to the majority of Africans, moving forward with genuine economic independence becomes an arduous exercise. Justice is there if the land is returned to where it originally belongs.