News and Document archive source
copyrighted material disclaimer at bottom of page

NewsMinecoldwar-imperialismafrica — Viewing Item

Whites land vs landlessness blacks { January 6 2004 }

Original Source Link: (May no longer be active)

January 6, 2004
Africa Quandary: Whites' Land vs. the Landlessness of Blacks

GABON, South Africa - At first blush, the jumble of corrugated-steel shacks sprouting from 123 acres of flat countryside is a mirror of thriving towns all over the nation. Thousands of barren yards, marked by chicken-wire fences and festooned with clotheslines, face dirt lanes dignified by hand-lettered wooden street signs. There are also a taxi stand, a shoe-repair shop, a soccer field.

About 15,000 black South Africans call Gabon home. It is their home - but not legally.

For this city of squatters is built on part of the 13 square miles of farmland where Abraham Duvenage, its white owner, has grown corn, sorghum and soybeans for half his 73 years. Indeed, Gabon was a hayfield until about three years ago, when families from a nearby township decided that the land was free for the taking - and took it.

"I've been farming there more than 35 years, and now it is going downhill," he fumed as his 18 employees tilled the remaining open pasture. "I, an individual farmer, have to take the brunt of all these lawless people."

Eunice Rosila, 30, a resident in one of those chicken-wire enclosures, begged to differ. "The main point is, we don't have a place to stay," she said, sitting beneath an umbrella to escape a blazing sun. "We've got a right to be here, because the owner was not using this land."

The tug of war is part of an intense conflict over land in southern Africa. It pits tens of thousands of white landowners, beneficiaries of a system that denied blacks property rights, against millions of nonwhites left landless by colonialism.

For close to a decade, many landless have waited fruitlessly for democracy to end that disparity. Experts worry that their growing impatience threatens the black-white compact that has been the linchpin of South Africa's stability.

The government has promised its 40 million nonwhites a radical redistribution of land, but such hopes have been largely dashed. Upon ending apartheid in 1994, government leaders pledged to use the treasury and the law to transfer 30 percent of white-owned farmland to nonwhites in five years. Nearly 10 years later, they have transferred 2 percent. A minuscule sliver has been sold privately to nonwhites.

More than 9 of every 10 acres of commercial farmland remain in the hands of 50,000 white farmers.

How far land reform can alleviate injustice is a matter of debate. In a nation where more than half the population is urban and one in three workers is unemployed, jobs and building a developed economy are more pressing to many people, including leaders in the governing African National Congress.

"People know perfectly well that if they are going to improve their livelihood, they aren't going to do it on the land," said Steven Friedman, a senior scholar at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg.

Other experts say that argument overlooks the value of a plot of land for a vegetable garden to countless families with no income, particularly in a nation where rural poverty is crushing. In addition, they say, it underestimates the wealth that could be spread by breaking up the vast white-owned farms that dominate commercial agriculture.

What is indisputable is the tension. White farmers say they bear the full brunt of growing black resentment: since 1991, more than 1,500 have been killed. Government reports attribute most of the murders to robbery, not race or class resentment. Many farmers say that glosses over the problem.

In parts of KwaZulu-Natal Province, a fertile expanse bordering the Indian Ocean, the jockeying approaches low-level guerrilla warfare. Farmers employ security men and ring pastures with trenches to fend off attacks by peasants.

A fast-growing political faction called the Landless People's Movement has threatened to start taking over white farms in early 2005, at the climax of the presidential election season. "We are going to shake them," Magaliso Kubheka, who organized the group in 2001, said in an interview.

Black peasants and laborers have lodged claims with the Land Affairs Department for 70 percent of all KwaZulu-Natal's commercial farmland. A similar share is claimed in Mpumalanga Province, to the north.

Some claimants are not waiting for government rulings. Squatter invasions of farmland are now an everyday occurrence, said Glen Thomas, the deputy director of the land reform program. "We might reach a crisis at some point, if people become impatient at the speed at which we are delivering," Mr. Thomas said in an interview. "They may start rising against the government."

That would have seemed outlandish a few years ago. But any sense that southern Africa could safely ignore land inequities vanished in 2000 when Zimbabwe, to the north, sent paramilitary forces and peasants to seize virtually all the nation's white-owned farms. Economic and political chaos followed, as farm output collapsed and foreign investors fled.

Mr. Thomas and others say South Africa is different: its leaders are politically secure and committed to the law, while Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, employed land seizures to bolster rural support for his government in the face of growing urban opposition. But some say that analysis too easily dismisses the mindset of ordinary South Africans, many of whom see Mr. Mugabe's policies as black empowerment.

"There is a kind of emotional, gut-level reaction among South Africans that Mugabe is doing the right thing," said Ben Cousins, a professor of land and agrarian studies at the University of the Western Cape in Bellville.

What mainly ails land reform here is no longer white resistance; to the contrary, experts agree that many white farmers, weary of conflict, would willingly sell for a fair price. Rather, the nation's black-run government has given land reform a back seat to other priorities. Land-transfer programs remain perennially underfinanced by a government preoccupied with AIDS and crime, and doubtful that giving land to penniless peasants will do much to better their lot.

Early efforts to endow citizens with land failed so badly that the government halted all land grants in 1999. Many groups of black farmers, given huge farms but no training in agriculture or management, simply went under. Others subcontracted the management to former white owners who bilked the new owners.

Even now, the national land bureaucracy plods along with little political support. After revamping its programs to favor individual entrepreneurs, the government has set 2015 as its new target for turning over 30 percent of commercial farmland to nonwhites. But it will not meet that deadline unless it increases spending on land reform sevenfold, Mr. Thomas said.

That seems unlikely. South Africa's effort to be chosen for the 2010 soccer World Cup commits it to spend nearly $350 million on soccer stadiums, for example, according to news accounts and a private consultant's report. The government's annual budget for land programs is less than three-quarters of that.

The frustration extends to Mr. Duvenage's 123-acre hayfield, renamed Gabon by the squatters, where people on both sides are boiling with impatience.

The Duvenage spread, about 40 miles east of Johannesburg, is unusual in that a city of thousands has sprung up within it. But Gauteng Province, where it is situated, is one of the most frequent sites of farm attacks and killings of farm owners.

Like most squatter invasions, the one here took place near a concentration of poor landless people. Many squatters were renting backyards three years ago in Daveytown, a nearby township of 150,000 people.

For his part, Mr. Duvenage said he would happily sell his 123 acres and more if it would end the dispute. But the cash-short land agency is not interested. Indeed, one official suggested that Mr. Duvenage had invited the squatters onto his land to provoke the government to buy it.

Mr. Duvenage and one of his sons said they suspected that the arrival of the first 50 squatters was organized by local political activists. But Ms. Rosila, the resident, said she and her husband dismantled their three-room shack in Daveytown and nailed it back together here on their own. "We saw some people with shacks and we followed them," she said.

Mr. Duvenage summoned the police that first weekend. But the authorities soon gave up arresting squatters, saying they would not fill local jails with trespassers. "Then it really escalated," said Mr. Duvenage's son Daan, 45.

Mr. Duvenage's efforts to enforce a court-ordered eviction have come to naught: the sheriff demanded that he pay $250,000 to carry it out.

Another son, Braan, 40, has abandoned the fight, moving to another province where he has a contract with the state to advise black farmers. Daan Duvenage said he felt obliged to stick it out. But with thieves picking off one-fourth of the farm's profits, he does not know how long he can continue. He holds no hope that the government will solve their problem.

"They will never move them, because there would be an uproar," he said. Soon, he said, "there will be a new row of houses, it will get bigger and bigger, and eventually you won't be able to afford to farm anymore."

Just to get water, Gabon's residents must hike a third of a mile every day to a roadside tap. But the squatters say life is better than in the township for a simple reason: they pay no rent.

One recent afternoon, a group of 15 squeezed into what serves as Gabon's city hall to discuss the future. On the wall was a sign: "Stress is a white man's disease."

"We don't have a problem moving out of here," said Elizabeth Moresba, 40, who sat perched on a table. "But the government must find a place for us."

But her fellow squatters say they find it hard to understand why a family with more than 8,400 acres of land is battling so hard over a simple hayfield.

"He will lose," Eddison Mampa, the self-appointed spokesman for the squatters, whispered to a visitor. "There is no way that Boer is going to get this land."

Sharon LaFraniere reported from Gabon, South Africa, for this article and Michael Wines from KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Algeria asks france to admit 1945 massacre { May 9 2005 }
Belgium apologizes for lumumba assasination { February 6 2002 }
Butcher of uganda dies in exile
Carlucci lumumba role
Congo plundered
Europe ethnically divided african tribes to war
Facts mobutu lumumba { October 14 1930 }
Ghana toppled by cia 9 years after brit indepedence
Idi amin murderous dictator dies { August 17 2003 }
Idi amin uganda [jpg]
Israel and south africa apartheid
Kabila toppled congo dictator { January 16 2001 }
Nigeria oil retreat { March 23 2003 }
Npr 4 24 06 europe creates rwanda divisions [mp3]
Reagan supports apartheid South Africa { June 7 2004 }
Reagan vetoed south african sanctions { June 9 2004 }
Rwanda congo
South africa anti apartheid movement blamed on commies { October 31 2006 }
South africa { March 22 2003 }
Steve biko apartheid movement { December 8 1997 }
US bank loans shore up south africa apartheid { November 20 1976 }
Waltzing with warlords { June 20 1993 }
Whites land vs landlessness blacks { January 6 2004 }

Files Listed: 24


CIA FOIA Archive

National Security
Support one-state solution for Israel and Palestine Tea Party bumper stickers JFK for Dummies, The Assassination made simple