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Sender: owner-afrlabor@acuvax.acu.edu
Message-ID: <554546@isis.Reed.EDU>
Date: 30 Nov 95 12:10:21 PST
From: Chris.Lowe@directory.Reed.EDU (Chris Lowe)
Subject: Land & class in SA
To: AFRLABOR@acuvax.acu.edu

Political battles are looming over land reform in South Africa

By Eddie Koch, in African Agenda
30 November 1995

Johannesburg: Land reform in South Africa faces fire on several fronts. Land Affairs Minister Derek Hanekom has been pressing ahead with a comprehensive programme to implement the new government's promise that 30% of all arable land will be redistributed over the next five years and that the rural poor will be able to live on land without fear of arbitrary eviction.

His ministry has pushed through a series of laws and bills to achieve this. But his work teams ran into political tremors in late June.

The first shudders came when Defence Minister Joe Modise confirmed reports that his force, the state department that has control over the largest tracts of land in the country, was holding up efforts to redistribute unused or under-utilised land.

The communities at Lohatla in the Northern Cape, now an SADF (South African Defence Force) battle school, have lodged formal claims for their titles to be restored. A number of high-level meetings were called to stave off a cabinet rift. The result is that Modise was forced to back down and President Nelson Mandela has agreed to intervene in the spat.

Comprehensive measures were put in place early this year so that communities displaced under apartheid could reclaim title to their land. A pilot land reform programme aimed at redistributing land to poor constituencies is up and running in all nine provinces.

A draft law that offers protection to more than 250,000 tenants from arbitrary eviction and gives them the right to own land on white farms was published recently. And the cabinet accepted a trilogy of bills that would provide secu rity to millions on land in the former homelands.

Home Affairs Minister Mangosuthu Buthelezi described the three bills as another attempt by central government to undermine the powers of traditional chiefs in KwaZulu-Natal.

The main law in the trilogy, the Interim Protection of Informal Land Rights Bill, provides for a temporary freeze on tenure patterns in the former homelands where formal land-holding records are in a state of chaos and do not reflect actual residential patterns. It gives land officials a breathing period, until the end of 1996, to come up with a comprehensive programme for solving the administrative nightmare in the old homelands. Buthelezi railed against the measures at an Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) rally in KwaZulu-Natal on the grounds that it formed part of a concerted strategy - along with the plan for central government to pay traditional leaders' salaries and thus free them from local political pressures - to undermine the powers of chiefs to administer land in tribal areas.

But by all accounts, the minister remained mum when the Cabinet approved the bill. There is, however, little doubt there will be more fire in the politically volatile province as the IFP steps up its attack on Mandela's plan for national government to pick up the chiefs' wage bill.

The most unstable terrain exists, however, in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Transvaal where tenants and farmers have been waging a low-intensity class struggle over rights to land. In both regions, white farmers, fearful of claims from people who have lived on the land for decades, have evicted scores of black families, impounding their cattle and burning some of their homesteads.

Workers and farm tenants responded first by threatening an armed invasion of white-owned land and then by mounting a massive labour strike this year. At different stages of these conflicts, cattle were attacked, fences ripped down, and there have been cases of farmers being assassinated.

The Land Reform (Labour Tenants) Bill was set up to give tenants either secure title or the right to buy their own land from farmers. But it also lays down procedures for landowners to evict tenants who may have broken a contract with a farmer. The measure won some support from agricultural unions because it promised some stability.

But the Agricultural Employers Organisation (AEO), which claims to represent 7,000 farmers, along with three major agricultural unions called an early July summit to mobilise resistance against the bill.

Tenants also issued a statement declaring they were not prepared to pay for land obtained from white farmers as provided for in the bill.

The land issue has divided people along a fault line that, three centuries after the first permanent settlement by white invaders, still threatens to rock the country. - Third World Network Features

About the writer: Eddie Koch is a contributor to African Agenda, where this article first appeared.

African Agenda is published monthly for the Third World Network Africa office. For further information, contact The Editor at P O Box 94154, Yeoville 2198, Johannesburg, South Africa. Fax:011-648-0907; E-mail: afagend@iaccess.za.

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.

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