As South Africans look ahead
to a new presidential term, the issue of the country's land and who rightfully
owns it has been a key election topic. Land reform is a complex mix of issues,
centering on how to redress the effects of colonial rule in a region where land
ownership and agricultural
production is often a mainstay of survival.
Africans aren't alone in their need to further define how land reform fits into
the political spectrum. Other countries in southern Africa with a history of colonization,
specifically Zimbabwe and Namibia, have also been revisiting their stances on
the land issue, albeit with different approaches.
President Robert Mugabe has taken the most controversial path, authorizing the
forcible takeover of nearly all of the country's white-owned farms -- a move that
has led to considerable political and economic chaos.
for a country like South Africa -- considered a leader on the African continent
-- and one like Namibia -- one of the region's most stable presences -- balancing
sensitive political land reform decisions with the need to right historical wrongs
is a complicated challenge.
South African land politics
are entwined with the country's controversial domestic policies of the past. The
legacy of racial injustices in the country, epitomized in the white supremacist
policies of apartheid adopted in the late 1940s, prevented many native Africans
from owning land in white farming areas and also prohibited white farmers from
leasing land to black tenants.
addition, the Land Act of 1913 prevented most blacks from buying land outside
of specified reserves.
all remaining apartheid laws were finally repealed in 1991, the country had to
define a new political framework and constitution. New leaders emerged from the
political movements who took a lead role in the liberation movement, including
the African National Congress.
Mbeki assumed leadership of the ANC party after Nelson Mandela stepped down as
the party's president in 1997. Mbeki went on to win South Africa's presidency
who has sought to be a representative for Africa and its interests on the global
stage, has borne the challenge of guiding South Africa through its fledgling years
of open democracy.
debate in the run-up to the 2004 presidential poll considers whether South Africans'
lives have improved under the ANC-run government. The government's stance in the
land reform debate, while not the top political issue, has played a growing role.
ANC promised to make land reform a key priority in 1994, and has redistributed
some 1.8 million hectares of land and settled over half of all land redistribution
claims, according to a March 2004 party statement.
are three main tenets in South Africa's land policy -- redistribution, land restitution
and land tenure reform. The Mbeki government currently plans to redistribute 30
percent of commercial farmland currently owned by white farmers to landless blacks
we forget, land reform was -- and remains -- one of the most onerous challenges
facing post-apartheid South Africa. ... This process has involved engaging with
a variety of stakeholders to build a broader buy-in on the noble vision of land
reform in South Africa," Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza said in a recent
budget speech, according to a U.N. report.
groups such as the Landless People's Movement have aimed to push the land reform
issue to the forefront of the political agenda. The group, which calls itself
an independent, grassroots national movement of the landless, has threatened to
start its own land invasions if the government doesn't speed up the process.
political leaders have questioned the motives of groups like LPM, accusing them
of trying to gain from the frustrations of landless people.
has created a great deal of frustration that irresponsible organizations such
as the Landless People's Movement are trying to exploit," Democratic Alliance
leader Tony Leon, considered Mbeki's top opposition, said in late March, according
to South Africa's News24.
the bigger picture, land reform has important competition among other key domestic
political issues in South Africa. High unemployment rates and a severe epidemic
of HIV and AIDS pose serious and immediate concerns for the government.
the divisive land seizures in neighboring Zimbabwe have increased pressure on
South African leaders to make visible progress in their own land redistribution
program. Political leaders have been hesitant to directly condemn the actions
of Zimbabwe's President Mugabe, who many in the public view as a radical trailblazer
for the rights of the black and landless.
is a kind of emotional, gut-level reaction among South Africans that Mugabe is
doing the right thing," Ben Cousins, a professor at the University of the
Western Cape in Bellville, told The New York Times in January.
Mbeki is expected to easily win reelection, there are signs that South Africans
are questioning the country's direction and political system.
a recent poll published in The Washington Post, some 68 percent of those surveyed
said they felt the ANC has too much power. They ranked unemployment, crime and
HIV/AIDS as some of the top problems the government should be addressing.
Robert Mugabe has been labeled as both a reckless maverick and a groundbreaker
for his divisive stance on land redistribution. As in other countries in the region,
land inequalities in Zimbabwe are rooted in a colonial past, in this case with
the United Kingdom.
of the key turning points in the land issue occurred in 1965, when a white minority
government declared its independence from Britain and white leaders seized the
majority of the most fertile farming land.
Zimbabwe gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980, the British government
earmarked a fund to help the new government buy back land from white farmers.
The program ended in 1988 amid charges that the land was being distributed to
government officials and the well-connected, instead of poor, landless blacks.
was a turning point," Sam Moyo, director of the Southern African Regional
Institute for Policy Studies, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2002. "The
government of Zimbabwe just turned around and said: 'Fine. We will do it our way.'"
became Zimbabwe's first elected president in 1980 and took a decidedly more extreme
position on the land issue than some of his neighboring counterparts.
party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF, has held
considerable political power since the country became independent.
upon that first election, Mugabe promised to redistribute white land to landless
blacks. But progress was slow and nearly two decades later whites still owned
some 70 percent of the most fertile land.
1999, Mugabe formed a commission to rewrite portions of the country's constitution
but the changes were defeated in a national referendum vote. In 2000, the government
launched its fast-track program that permitted officials to seize white owned
land for redistribution to an estimated 300,000 settlers and some 30,000 black
commercial farm workers.
plan has been known as the "Third Chimurenga" or liberation struggle
and the "jambanja" or direct action.
backlash from Mugabe's fast track land policies was drastic. Since March 2000,
agricultural output has severely dropped and violent clashes have ensued between
government supporters and white farmers.
all of the 4,000 white farmers who own portions of Zimbabwe's best agricultural
land have had their farms listed for seizure.
some of the most maligned players have been the farm workers who have borne the
brunt of the loss of work and the lack of a strong political voice.
invasions sought to discourage political participation by farm workers. They were
subjected to intimidation and violence, and were deliberately marginalized as
a group in land resettlement," said a report by a farm workers non-governmental
organization, the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe, as cited in a recent U.N.
political picture becomes more difficult to assess in the face of limited media
access to the country. The state controls most media outlets and the government
does not usually grant visas to foreign journalists.
Mugabe maintains a strong following in some sectors, particularly among war veterans
who participated along with the leader in the battles for independence in 1970s
and have threatened in past years to go back to war if ZANU-PF loses support,
according to a 2000 BBC report.
the politics of food, land ownership and international food aid have intersected.
More than two years of severe drought and bad harvests have led to a humanitarian
crisis in some parts of Zimbabwe with international agencies attempting to feed
more than 6 million people -- more than half the country's population.
some 4,500 confiscated farms, only a couple hundred are fully functioning and
harvest of food staples has dropped by some 90 percent, according to a December
article in the Wall Street Journal.
stands alone as how one person can ruin a country," Tony Hall, U.S. ambassador
to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, told the newspaper,
saying Mugabe has "committed crimes against humanity."
government has stirred further controversy by using both food aid and land to
reward those loyal to the ZANU-PF party. Foreign media outlets have reported that
those with a membership card to the party are more likely to receive food assistance
than those without.
himself has been roundly criticized in the international community for his apparent
compliance in politicizing food aid. The U.S. and European governments have placed
travel and financial sanctions against him, and his government has been criticized
by human rights organizations.
Mugabe stands firm in his actions and defiance to Western influence. He defended
his plan during an address to a party conference in December.
people are overjoyed, the land is ours," he said, according to an account
in the Wall Street Journal. "We are now the rulers and owners of Zimbabwe."
main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has voiced concerns
over his handling of the land situation and how his controversial actions have
weakened the government's standing. White farmers have publicly backed the party.
MDC deplores the manner in which the president has sanctioned the land invasions,"
the group said in a statement on its Web site.
recent government-orchestrated land invasions by ex-combatants have done nothing
to improve the conditions for an organized, economically viable land reform program,"
says the group. "On the contrary, this development is a short-term political
response to a cumulative loss of legitimacy by the Zimbabwean government."
the shadow of larger players South Africa and Zimbabwe, the small country of Namibia
has tried to strike a middle ground in the land reform issue. Germany colonized
the country, which South Africa later annexed. Namibia gained independence in
Sam Nujoma, the country's first and only president since independence, also leads
the ruling South West African People's Organization party, a key player in the
struggle against South African rule in the late 1950s and 1960s.
has served for three consecutive terms and is generally popular leader, particularly
in the north.
approach to land reform has been characterized by a spirit of reconciliation with
white farmers, although most observers agree that he has kept a careful eye on
Zimbabwean President Mugabe -- considered an ally of Nujoma -- and how other countries
might influence Namibia’s situation.
government has stuck to a "willing seller, willing buyer" approach to
the land reform issue for more than a decade and progress has been slow at best.
As in neighboring
countries, one black farmer's union in Namibia has made threats to embark on its
own land invasions if the government can't pick up the pace.
officials have said that it will only operate within the letter of the law in
land expropriation and will not forcibly invade farms without proper cause.
Nujoma said recently that there was no turning back on the land issue, despite
fears of the chaos that has gripped Zimbabwe.
government has now decided to exercise its discretion to implement this measure
(land expropriation) within the framework of our constitution and other relevant
laws," Nujoma said at a recent independence anniversary celebration.
his initial indications that he would not stand for a fourth term as president,
Nujoma has said recently that if his people want him to stay in office, he would
consider doing so.
cannot ignore the call by the people, because the people are the ones who make
the final decision," he told Reuters.
in South Africa, unemployment and poverty are key domestic issues in Namibian
politics. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is also a major national concern.
Nujoma government has purchased some 130 farms since independence and is seeking
ways to increase its annual budget in order to negotiate more land sales.
to Frans Kayumbu Tsheehama, Namibia's permanent secretary for the Ministry of
Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, his agency needs to buy about 9 million
hectares of land in order to assist some 240,000 landless people. The government
has also said that its focus is on those with "excessive" amounts of
land -- these are often absentee owners who only use the land occasionally to
hunt or for other recreation.
By Maureen Hoch, Online NewsHour