Using my Nudel — Reforming our perceptions on land

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By Craig Nudelman

It’s finally happened. Zuma is gone. The ANC finally had the baitzim and the saichel to make him resign (which wasn’t completely a foregone conclusion).

CR17 is now the President of the Republic of South Africa. For nearly nine years South Africans have lived under a cloud, where the sun of justice kept getting obscured by inefficiency, corruption and state capture. Now we’re on the path to a new South Africa. I hope.

We have a lot of issues to deal with, but there is one which creeps up more and more, and that is land expropriation. Yes, that most contentious of topics which has been as the back of our minds for many years. The one where we keep on thinking about our neighbours up north and the disaster that happened under Mugabe’s reign. And maybe, in our Jewish homes, we keep on thinking about our own land question in Israel — does the ANC and EFF’s liberation of land resonate too much when we think about the West Bank, and perhaps Israel in general?

But I don’t want to get mixed up in Israeli affairs now. Let’s look at the history of the land issue. Perhaps we’ll be able to have constructive debates about this most emotive topic, and not cause too many ferribles, even after our four glasses of wine.
We all know about colonisation and the Dutch East India Company. And of course over the course of history, while Southern Africa changed hands from the Dutch to the British (remember, there was no South Africa until 1910), land was unjustly taken away from the indigenous peoples.When I take people on tours of Cape Town (you too can come on one), I speak about Jan van Riebeek and the first example of land expropriation. Between 1659-1660, van Riebeek decided to plant an almond hedge (Brabejum stellatifolium) to protect his new refreshment station and settlement from the Khoisan, who were was becoming a nuisance to the growth of the settlement. He decided that the land on which the Khiosan let their cattle graze was of more importance to the expansion of the refreshment station he was in charge of. And so segregation between Europeans and Africans began, and was not to end officially until 1994. This includes the Frontier Wars, the occupation of land in Natal, the Free State and the Transvaal.

When, in 1913, the Natives Land Act came into being, it gave 7% of land to, as described in the Act, “any person, male or female, who is a member of an aboriginal race or tribe of Africa” in the newly created Union of South Africa. This was increased to 13.5% in 1936. Most of the land allocated to Black people was arbitrary. Here is an example from the Native Land Commission: “recommended the area for Native occupation because it was a “poor soil with a steep and sour pasturage of so limited extent (…) Only a Kaffir, with his limited requirements could be expected to exist upon such terms.”

So this is how land was divided. It was an unjust and terrible system which wreaked havoc upon the African population in the early days of the Union. Addressing this injustice began (in post-apartheid South Africa) with Section 25 of the Bill of Rights within the Constitution. It says “the government must make laws and take other steps, to help people or communities to get land to live on, and to claim back land, if they lost it after 1913 and they lost it because of an apartheid law.” But a contentious issue is subsection (4)(b) of this right. It argues that “for the purpose of this section (…) property is not limited to land.” Now what does mean? It means that this is not only about farms — ‘property’ has a rather ambiguous meaning. It is up to the legislature and the Constitutional Court to decide what to do with this new motion to amend the Constitution.

Now I’m not trying to ring the alarms and be a fear-monger. This process will take many months, or perhaps even years, for some legislation to be passed. But we do need to be part of the process. It is no use commenting and/or complaining on something we do not understand. We need to research this thoroughly and become active citizens. And so I urge you to look at this debate more thoroughly — it can only benefit you and your understanding of a complex, multifaceted issue. Read the Daily Maverick, Business Day or Mail and Guardian for a more detailed approach, or for those with a short attention span, use social media — wisely. You never know what some meshuga will say.

As you read this it will probably be the middle of Pesach, just after your seders. You’ll have read about the four sons: the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who cannot speak. We are, at times, all of those ‘sons’, and on many issues we can be any of those qualities.

Perhaps this Pesach listen to what other people say first — it doesn’t make you simple, it makes you wise.

Chag Pesach Sameach!

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