South Africa has avoided the difficult work of reckoning with the pain of our past and dismantling and creating the future we want. Some may argue that land lies at the heart of the repair and redistributive work that we need to do and in the absence of solving the land question, meaningful justice is unachievable. While the issue of land took centre stage in public discourse with the release of the High Level Panel On The Assessment Of Key Legislation And The Acceleration of Fundamental Change, the Final Report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture, as well as the public consultation process in relation to Section 25 of Constitution, it has become somewhat muted in recent years.
Land can be characterised as the incomplete promise of the constitution - some may even argue a constitutional betrayal - and a marker for the extent to which freedom and justice has not been achieved, with the constitution’s protection of property rights being a 1994 transition deal that we are still grappling with. If land is, in fact, an incomplete promise of the constitution, we can only truly be a constitutional democracy when land reform has been realised.
The question of whether land still in fact, matters stems from a frustration and despondency around the slow pace of progress on this issue. It is thus not so much about whether land matters or not but rather does it matter enough for it to occupy notable space in our discourse; does it matter enough for us to dedicate immense effort and resources towards; does it matter enough so as to justify tirelessly championing its cause.
If in fact it does warrant this kind of attention, our intention for keeping it at the forefront of societal discourse and policy advocacy is integral. In other words, if land still matters, why does it still matter.
Some see land as land as economy and in a context in which a small number of people enjoy benefits while the majority carry the burdens, perhaps land can help us address extreme wealth inequality. It is evident that we cannot be satisfied with the current distribution status quo in South Africa, and like any society this distribution is not divine nor fixed but rather can be altered based on our moral choices and firmness of resolve. But is land the tool to resolving this and is there a pressing need to solve the land issue as a means of economic reform? If viewed in these terms, the provision of well-located housing can be seen as more fundamental than land redistribution per se. Viewing land reform in this way could prioritise both historical disadvantage and current socio-economic status in order to combat wealth inequality and in so doing give tangible expression to land redistribution.
With that said, others may content that one cannot reduce land redistribution to economic advancement because the history of land is about both economy and citizenship. As such, reclaiming the land cannot be divorced from black South Africans reclaiming citizenship especially in a context in which they have been made to feel like visitors in a country of their birth arising from our history of apartheid and colonialism which has been further aggravated by a lack of progress on land reform by our current government.
Notwithstanding why land matter, there is also a potentially divisive issue around who should benefit from land reform. A narrow nativist approach to land excludes coloured and Indian South Africans from accessing land through a redistribution programme. Additionally, in some quarters this also excludes our African brethren from other parts of the continent who have made a home in South Africa. How do we grapple and make sense of this and what does justice look like in relation to different racial groups and those who hold dual or other citizenships but who call South Africa home.
These are some of the lines of enquiry that the dialogue will critically surface and discuss through both the keynote address, facilitated discussion as well as audience engagement.
Keynote address Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, followed by a facilitated discussion with Nolundi Luwaya, Director of Land and Accountability Research Centre (LARC).
Date: 2 November 2023
Time: 11am to 1pm, followed by lunch
Venue: Nelson Mandela Foundation, 107 Central Street, Houghton, Johannesburg
PLEASE NOTE: Registration for attendance is now closed.