Land fever sweeps southern Africa, pressing governments react
(GIN) | 8/30/2018, midnight
The day of reckoning is arriving in southern Africa for the hundreds of thousands of Blacks whose lands were taken forcibly by white settlers—a crime that goes unpunished despite promises for land reform year after year.
Pressure is growing on governments to take action and return ancestral lands to their original owners. But government leaders have been cautiously backing away from some of their early militant calls for justice.
“It’s true whites stole the land, but they also have Namibian blood,” said Namibian President Hage Geingob.
“Whites are also Namibian,” he said diplomatically at a Heroes Day commemoration in northern Namibia. Geingob was the country’s first prime minister and was one of the drafters of the Namibian Constitution, which protected property rights of people who owned land before independence.
At the time of independence, nearly all commercial land was owned by the white minority, which constituted less than 0.5 percent of the population, while 70 percent of the population lived on what is now classified as communal land. More than 17 million hectares of land are still in the hands of whites in that country.
This week, President Geingob admitted that national efforts to restore lands to Black farmers over the years had flopped. In response, he is planning a “national land conference” from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5 to discuss ways to speed up “peaceful and sustainable solutions to the challenges of inequality, landlessness and the pains of genocide—whether voluntary or uncompensated.”
Meanwhile, in South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged to speed up land reform to undo “a grave historical injustice” against the Black majority during colonialism and the apartheid era.
It was a reference to the 1913 Natives Land Act that reserved almost 93 percent of the land for the white minority and legalized the historical dispossession of the African population.
At a gathering of more than 350 farmers this week on a game farm in Bela-Bela‚ Limpopo‚ to discuss land reform, they were caught by surprise by a tweet from President Donald Trump reading, “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.” It infuriated many of the attendees for its misinformation.
“I’m worried about the politicians and the politics in our country if they don’t get [land reform] right,” said Andre Smith, 49, who grows pecans and other crops on 100 acres in the Northern Cape. “We don’t love Donald Trump and his outspokenness.”