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Land of My Fathers

Coen van Wyk

Posted on August 11, 2018 14:38

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Land is an emotional issue. Our atavistic urges kick in to defend what is ours and that of our ancestors against invaders, others. Maybe the others think the same?

Land is a hot issue just now in South Africa. Nobody disagrees that people had been dispossessed by a series of laws since 1913, and the ANC Government has done much to set the stage for restitution of these lands to descendants of the wronged owners. How the restitution was done is a contentious issue. Most farms acquired by the State is leased out to selected beneficiaries. They are not often selected for knowledge of farming, and as lease-holders cannot raise bank loans to capitalize their projects. Not surprising, most of them fail. The greatest need is for urban land; South Africa has a high and increasing urbanization rate. Cities still apply apartheid-era housing policies, failing to anticipate inflows of refugees from rural poverty and feudal politics, and insisting on extensive, low cost matchboxes instead of modern high-rise developments. Invasion of vacant municipal land is a regular occurrence.

Shantytown in Cape Town Photo savingwater


Populists are quick to latch on to the issue: firebrand Julius Malema claims that land was “taken by genocide, and will be returned” if he gains power. He proposes a system where all land, urban and rural, would be owned and administered by the State, and all occupiers would pay rent.

Rightwingers react by circling the wagons and promising to defend the lands of their fathers. Tribal leaders, trustees for the lands of their followers under colonial and apartheid legislation, threaten to raise impi’s to defend their rights, forcing the ruling revolutionary African National Congress to back down: tribal land will not be touched.

King Goodwill Zwelethini, sole trustee of his nation's lands. Photo SAhistory


But forgotten are the descendants of the first nations to live in South Africa. Claims in the name of Khoi and San tribes have been registered. Their fathers, so they claim, and this is backed by explorers, owned the land before white and black settlers arrived. Now mostly urbanized, these people are used by political interests.

Many South Africans just want jobs, a place to stay and an income to live on.

Priorities OurDA/Twitter


This situation lends itself to imposition on several other global crises. The Rohinga in Myanmar, the Uighurs in China, the Syrian refugees in Hungary, the Mexican immigrants in the USA can all claim, to some extent, to have ancestral links with their preferred destinations.

How then do we delimit the land of our fathers? Records exist for the South African land dispossessions of 1913, but not 1440 when the first white sailors met Khoi people at the Cape, or Bantu tribes pushed San tribes back from the Natal coast. Records of Turkish settlement in Eastern Europe might be sketchy, and of the Moorish settlement in Spain even more so. Does John Cabot’s 1497 voyage constitute a basis for land claims?

It is tempting to quote Chief Seattle:“The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.”

Coen van Wyk

Posted on August 11, 2018 14:38

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Source: CS Monitor

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