The land reform issue has long been a focus of policy discussion in South Africa and the basis for dealing with land issues has changed overtime. A number of land reform policies have been proposed with very little success. The idea of land in South Africa has little to do with class and everything to do with land, heritage and reclaiming that which was stolen under colonialism, then under imperialism, and finally under apartheid which is the civil religion of postwar South Africa. This paper sheds light on the chieftaincy system and how land distribution works. Although this land is not much compared to the land in the hands of minority white farmers, this paper argues that if land redistribution is to work, it needs to work at all levels of governments. Therefore, through a literature review, this paper attempts to answer the following questions: 1) How traditional leaders derive their authority? 2) What methods are traditional leaders using to distribute land? 3) How effective are these methods?
Keywords: Land reform, Traditional leaders, Apartheid, Colonialism
It’s been more than 20 years since South Africa become a democratic state. However the land reform issue still remains a hot and sensitive subject. Land ownership is a thorny issue with government claiming that up to 87% of South Africa’s agricultural land is still in the hands of white farmers (European immigrants). The country’s bitter history under the colonial rule of apartheid has left an everlasting legacy of racial segregation and land disposition. This is the legacy that the ANC (African National Congress) government inherited in 1994 when they took over the country. For many South Africans, the birth of democracy was a symbol of hope and that most of their problems, if not all of them, would be solved. Since democracy in 1994, South Africa still has one of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor in world.
Like many other countries that have undergone a land redistribution program, South Africans see land redistribution as a means to alleviate poverty. Government has put the land redistribution issue high up on the agenda. However, common South Africans are getting impatient as they feel that the government is dragging its feet in enacting effective land redistribution policies. Over the last two decades, several land reform policies have been proposed. Thus far, these policies have been plagued by poor planning and execution. In the face of a downward-spiraling economy, the land problem is more pressing than ever.
The land reform issue has long been a focus of policy discussion in South Africa and the basis for dealing with land issues has changed overtime. This statement is backed up by Hall (2009) that “as policy is redrawn, it seems that old ideas are being reinvented or renamed and that failed approaches are being tinkered with rather than discarded or replaced” (p.17). With the land reform policies, the government is attempting to redress the injustices of apartheid, while fostering reconciliation and stability. Also, they seek to improve economic growth, improve household welfare and alleviate poverty.
Much has been said about the land that remains in the hands of the minority, but very little has been said about the land in the hands of traditional leaders (tribal authorities), also known as village chiefs. These chiefs have many people living under them who are dished out land at the discretion of the village chief. This method has been criticized as being a patriarchal approach that lacks a standardized system of land distribution. This institution of traditional leadership was later integrated into the government’s structure as an extended arm.
This study explores the role of traditional leaders in the grand scheme of land redistribution. It attempts to answer three related questions: 1) how did traditional leaders derive their power? 2) What methods are traditional leaders using to distribute land to the people living under them? 3) Are these methods effective? To answer these questions, it is necessary to look back at the history of South Africa.
2. Literature Review
2.1 History of unequal land redistribution
Land ownership in South Africa has long been a source of conflict. South African history of conquest and dispossession, where blacks were forcefully removed and the racially-skewed distribution of land resources has left the new South Africa with a complex and difficult legacy. The issue concerning land in South Africa is deeply rooted in what happened in the past, where rural exploitation has implied displacement. The Land Act policy restricted black people from buying or occupying land accept as employees of European immigrants. This act gave the white minority ownership of 87% of land, leaving the black majority to settle in the remaining 13%. This policy also minimized competition by denying African the right to purchase land and the opportunity to become shareholders on European owned land. This meant that the Act also marked the end of the limited independence that African farmers had on European-owned land (The native land Act 27, 1913). This process involved stripping Africans of all their productive assets not just land. This included the loss of water and cattle rights, human capital, their communities and important demographic structures (Zimmerman, 2000).
Figure 1: Bantustan territories in South Africa during the apartheid era. The editors of encyclopaedia britannica (2017).
Figure 1; depict how the Native land act policy was used by the apartheid regime to forcefully remove Africans from their home land. 87% of Africans were placed in small designated and confined land known as the Bantustans while 13% of the European settlers occupied the remaining land. According to The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2017), Bantustans were structured and placed based on ethnic and linguistic groupings defined by white ethnographers. Kwazulu was the designated homeland of the Zulu people, Transkei and Ceskei for Xhosa people and the other arbitrarily defined groups were the North Sotho, South Sotho, Venda, Tsonga, and Swazi. Freedom of movement for Africans was restricted outside their designated area. “The poor, at least, need to be systematically triaged and regulated at the point of entry to the wealthiest territories” (Balibar, 2010). Traditional leaders of different ethnic groups managed and were in charge of the Bantustan territories.
2.2 The Origins of the Traditional leaders
The institution of traditional leadership represents an early form of societal organization. It embodies the protection of culture, traditions, customs and value (“The role of traditional”, 2014). This institution has always been a natural and common form of supremacy within African societies. A traditional leader is person appointed in accordance with traditions and customs of the area or tribe by virtue of his or her ancestry. He or she has traditional authority over the people who live in that area (“Chieftaincy and Kingship”, 2012) Steinmoen, (n.d.), explains that the status of authority is passed onto the next generation by kin, mainly to the son of the chief. In this case is dominantly a patriarchal society with some anomalies where women became chiefs. Therefore traditional leadership is based on governance of the people, where a traditional leader is accountable to his subject.
The institution of traditional leadership existed even before the colonial era. However, in this period, traditional leaders were accountable to their communities and were the highest form of political power. When the apartheid regime came into power, they confined Africans to small homelands or Bantustans under the rule of chiefs. According to Ntebeza (2005), the apartheid government created the tribal authorities which were highly authoritarian and despotic. It was during this time that the loyalty of traditional leaders shifted from their communities to the apartheid regime (Khunou, 2010). Before the current ANC government came into power in 1994, they promised to abolish the chieftaincy system. However, towards the first democratic elections, the ANC changed their views on the chieftaincy system to extend their support in rural communities. Kadt and Arbesu. (2014), states that in many rural areas electoral polling stations are local tribal courts, potentially magnifying the salience and power of traditional leaders when citizens vote.
2.3 Traditional leaders in democracy
Before the ANC government came into power, they saw the chieftaincy system as a way to extend their support in rural areas. As a result, traditional leaders were recognized as a fourth arm of government along national, provincial and municipal governments. Figure 2, shows how the institution of traditional leaders has penetrated and is positioned in all level of government (national, provincial and local) to remain in power. It is evident that this institution is going nowhere in south Africa. Chapter 12 of the South constitution (1996) recognizes the institution of traditional leaders’ authority roles and status. But not the authority to give people land. The traditional leaders quickly aligned themselves with the ANC government to remain relevant.
Figure 2: Traditional leadership and independent Bantustans of South Africa. Khunou, (2010).
To this day, traditional leaders continue to exercise their authority over people living under them. The institution of traditional leadership is in contradiction with what democracy is. This is due to the fact that traditional leaders are elected based on lineage and not by the masses. This method contradicts the values of democracy and promotes the patriarchal authority of the chiefs (“Chieftaincy and Kingship”, 2012). The key question that remains to be answered is how the land under traditional leaders is distributed to the people living under them.
Although several policies have been proposed to address the land question at national level, little has been said about how the land redistribution issue will be addressed at the lowest level of government. In the view of Branson (2016), traditional leaders have a paternalistic approach to land distribution. Under the ANC government, traditional leaders have the responsibility to rally support for the ANC by wielding their discretionary power over land distribution. This clientelist approach undermines rural development and further exacerbates the poverty situation of those living under village chiefs.
It is clear that the discretionary distribution of land under traditional leaders has not benefited the majority. However, to win rural area support and to stay in power, the ANC government has courted the chieftaincy system at the expense of the people. At the national level; however, several policies have been proposed with very little success. As a result, new political parties have attempted to gain support by using the failure of the ANC to return land to the people.
2.4 Previous policies and why they failed
When the ANC government took over power in 1994, it inherited a highly divided country in terms of wealth and land ownership. However, the ANC government had to quickly assure the minority white farmers that it would respect the (land rights) market-led approach, i.e. willing-seller willing-buyer (WS-WB). In the same light, the ANC also used the chieftaincy system to their benefit. However, courting the interests of minority white framers and traditional leaders has been heavily criticized. Bromley (1995), questions the morality of the market-based (WS-WB) approach. Expecting s to buy land that was forcefully taken seems to build on the legacy of apartheid instead of redressing the wrongs.
To address the land issue, a series of distinct policy responses within the context of the wider national land reform programs (May and Lahiff, 2007), have been put in place. The government attempted to redress the injustices of apartheid, while fostering reconciliation and stability with the land reform policies. The land reform process focused on three areas: restitution, redistribution and land tenure reform. As stated on the White Paper on South Land Policy (1997), the purposes of these programs are as follows:
a. Land Restitution involves returning land (or otherwise compensating victims) lost since 19 June 1913 because of racially discriminatory laws. Qalam and Lumet (2012), advocate the view that this process was a sham. People were unaware of the deadline closing date for lodging restitution claims at the end of 1996. Those (vast majority of forced removal victims) who registered after 1996 were not considered for restitution. Only few claims were settled, the rest are yet to be settled.
b. Land Redistribution makes it possible for poor and disadvantaged people to buy land with the help of a Settlement/Land Acquisition Grant. This done in order to redistribute 30% of o agricultural land to the rural poor. However, According Bailey (2010), the 30% of agricultural land that was supposed to be given to previously disadvantaged people has not been achieved.
c. Land Tenure reform aims to bring all people occupying land under a unitary, legally validated system of landholding. It will devise secure forms of land tenure, help resolve tenure disputes and provide alternatives for people who are displaced in the process
The land reform policy coupled with poor resource allocation, programs implementation and agricultural support are the primary reasons for the failure of land reform (Bailey, 2010). According to Cronje (2015), the land reform policy has been poorly implemented and has caused more harm than good. Firstly, it overstressed the degree of land need whereas only about 8% of South Africans want land to farm. Secondly, it restricts black South Africans from gaining individual ownership of farming land. Approximately all transferred land goes to the state, the chiefs or community trusts. Thirdly, it neglects the most essential land reform requirement which is giving individual ownership to people with insecure customary land-use rights in the former homelands.
3. Current debate
The South political atmosphere is currently dominated by discussions and debates regarding land. A new rhetoric that the ANC government has long been trying to avoid has sprung forth; land expropriation without compensation. This is contrary to the initial rhetoric of maintaining confidence in the market value of land. According to Conway-Smith (2017), the move toward expropriation without compensation is a populist move that seeks boost dwindling ANC support ahead of the next elections.
In spite of all the developments regarding the land in the hands of the minority white population, little remains said about the land under traditional leaders. Instead of progress being made towards fair distribution of land, traditional leaders seek to expand their power and influence. In fact, some traditional leaders are lodging claims for more land at a time when the majority is hungry for land. Given this trend, it is clear that the institution of traditional leaders is not about to be phased out anytime soon. On the contrary, the institution of traditional leadership seems to over complicate an already complex situation.
South Africans are crying for land restitution and not for land reform. Land in South Africa has little to do with class and everything to do with land, heritage and reclaiming what was stolen under colonialism, then under imperialism, and finally under apartheid. This paper argues that if redistribution is to work at all, it needs to work at the grass-root level first. The land under traditional leaders is just as important as the land under the white minority population. Furthermore, current debates on land redistribution shy away from discussing the issue on rural land. Rather, discussions rotate around the land under the white minority population.
It remains to be seen how exactly land redistribution is going to transform the lives of the majority. Studies have been conducted on the impact of land reform on the lives of beneficiaries. Most of these studies conclude that land reform contributes very little towards helping beneficiaries earn a source of revenue. The basis for this is often due to poor planning, lack of agreement within communities, lack of skills and inadequate post-settlement support. The issue of land in South Africa has the potential of further destabilizing the country if not handled properly. It seems that the issue of land will continue to dominate South African politics for years to come.