21 June 2013
Correcting the lasting effects of the Natives Land Act of 1913 is a crucial component of South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), says President Jacob Zuma.
Passed by the Union of South Africa in 1913, the Natives Land Act gave the right to own the biggest parcel of land in South Africa to whites, while blacks, in the words of former African National Congress secretary-general Sol Plaatjie, had to be content with being pariahs in the land of their birth.
Zuma was speaking at a gala dinner in Cape Town on Thursday night to mark the centenary of the passing of the Natives Land Act. He said it was an occasion for optimism.
Up to us to ‘do a great right’
“The reality is that these days are behind us. A great wrong was done, and now it is up to us to follow up by doing a great right. We are now in charge of our own destiny. We have achieved a successful transition to democracy. We have a model Constitution, based on fairness.”
But he said South Africa still had to reverse the dreadful pattern of poverty and landlessness – “the havoc created by the Natives Land Act”.
“Correcting the consequences of this Act is a critical cog in the wheel of state – it is a crucial component in the National Development Plan. There can be no successful national development without accompanying rural development and land reform.”
He remarked it was good that there was still co-operation on this matter in South Africa and that the land question was being treated with sensitivity.
The Cabinet approved the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill for publication and public comment in May 2013. In addition, the National Assembly recently approved the Special Planning and Land Use Management Bill which is now before the National Council of Provinces.
National support needed
These two Bills would help to reverse the process. “But, as I said earlier, success will require national support,” Zuma said.
South Africa’s National Development Plan aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. Among other things, it projects what the agricultural sector should look like in 30 years’ time.
“In this case, it is important to stress that land reform is not just about how much land is given back to claimants, but should include skills transfer,” Zuma said, adding that claimants should be empowered to use land productively for job creation, food security and attracting young people to farming.
The government would provide better incentives for commercial farmers who were willing and capable of mentoring smallholder farmers. Adequate post-settlement support to new landowners would also be given so that land continued to be productive.
“We call on all South Africans to commemorate this landmark, with a view to correcting the wrongs of the past and to reinforce reconciliation. We urge the public to participate in the process of improving land redistribution and reform to reverse the impact of the 1913 Act. We call on the public to engage in a meaningful debate about the acceleration of land restitution, within our constitutional framework.”
Settlers’ ‘original sin’
Zuma called the 1913 Natives Land Act “the original sin” of those who came to settle in South Africa.
He added that the apartheid government, which had succeeded the Union Government, had from 1948 relocated black people into impoverished homelands and poorly serviced townships.
“Since they could no longer provide food security for themselves and their families, they were forced to look for work far away from their families. The Act marked the beginning of socio-economic challenges the country is facing today such as landlessness, poverty and inequality.”
The Natives Land Act was repealed in 1991, but its legacy was still being felt today, almost 20 years after South Africa became a democratic country, Zuma said.
When a democratic government was elected in 1994, it committed itself, in accordance with the rule of law, to address the inequalities of land ownership and “particularly to those dispossessed as a result of it.
“Land dispossession is no doubt the fundamental violation of the rights of the indigenous people and the original sin, so to speak, of those who came to settle in the country.”
The government has undertaken to restore 30 percent of the land to black people by 2014. Since 1994, when the first democratically elected government came into power, the government has been addressing land reform through restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. The national policy of reconciliation and nation-building also guided this process.
“As we are all aware, progress has however been slow, and we have admitted that the 2014 redistribution target will not be met,” Zuma said, adding: “Only 6.7-million hectares of land have so far been transferred through redistribution and restitution.”