South Africa's land dilemma

The country is locked in a controversial debate about land redistribution to try and right historical injustices. CNN's David McKenzie reports.

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 1:01 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2018 1:31 AM

To understand what questions of land seizures and farm murders are all about, rural KwaZulu Natal is a good place to start.

Roland Henderson walks on the creaky floorboards of his stone farmhouse and points to a series of five sepia photographs hanging on the cream wall.

"These are my ancestors on the wall. So, if I loaf about during the day, they are watching me," he says with a chuckle.

Henderson's family has farmed in Besters, a cattle district of rolling grassland hills and acacia trees, for five generations.

"History is complicated in South Africa," I remark to him. "Our forebears took land from people. If not always directly, it was certainly helped by the legislation of the previous government. What do you think of that part of your legacy?"

"We can't ignore that. I don't think commercial farmers should atone for all the sins of apartheid that were committed," he says.

In Besters, the farmers are grappling hands-on with one of South Africa's most challenging historical problems.

When Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came to power in South Africa in 1994, one of the key dilemmas they faced was the so-called land question.

The policy of pushing non-white South Africans off the land to the benefit of whites officially began with the 1913 Native Lands Act, though in reality the practice stretches back centuries.

The act limited black ownership to just 7% of the land. The vast majority of viable land was allotted to whites.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently described the Lands Act as South Africa's "original sin."

"In my own family it happened twice, where land was taken, we were moved from where my parents had grown up owning land, working the land, they were moved and dropped into an arid place with no compensation whatsoever," said Ramaphosa in an exclusive interview with CNN.

"As it is now, the poverty that we have in South Africa, in part, has been given rise to by people not having assets."

This racist geography was accelerated during the apartheid years, when legislation codified the nationalist party's aims to keep races physically separated. Blacks and mixed-race South Africans were removed from cities and pushed into townships or homelands -- land allotted to non-whites, according to their ethnic identity.

They had to have a passbook, a kind of internal passport, to travel to designated white areas.

In Ladysmith, the nearest town to Besters, the "black spots" in town were erased in the 1970s, the non-white families forced out to a township called Ezakheni, some 15 miles away.

With the advent of democracy, land redistribution was, in theory, a top priority. But the South African government's efforts have been beset by problems.

The farmers in Besters didn't wait for them to rectify the past.

More than a decade ago, the commercial farmers in Besters held hundreds of meetings with the local community. As a result, with the help of government money, they have redistributed almost half of their district's land.

"It's complicated and there are many layers of history and many layers of conflict, but if you put everybody around a table and you talk to each other openly and honestly, you can find each other," says Henderson.

Emerging farmers like Ndizane Khosa have used their new land to raise cattle, chickens and sheep, and access to capital has allowed them to pull their families out of poverty.

"When we were growing up we had no idea how this farming worked, but our grandkids have the opportunity to learn properly now. I can pass that knowledge to them," Khosa says.

"In our district I have seven neighbors and they are all different colors, but we live happily together and there's place in the sun for us all," says Henderson.

The success of land redistribution in Besters is the anomaly, not the norm.

Exhaustive studies show that the ANC-led government has failed to execute its policy of land restitution and redistribution because of corruption, mismanagement and a lack of will. The vast majority of private land -- farmland included -- is owned by whites.

"A lot is at stake," said Ramaphosa. "You could even say that the stability of the country is at stake. And I am not fond of failing at anything. And this issue we will not fail on."

The ANC, pushed by an insurgent opposition party on the left, has resolved to amend the constitution to explicitly allow land redistribution without compensation. It is a highly contentious move that is working through a parliamentary process.

While Henderson, Khosa and the other farmers of Besters managed to broker a negotiated future for the land in their rural slice of South Africa, they are facing new pressures to take sides in the land debate.

RELATED: They're prepping for a race war. And they see Trump as their 'ray of hope'

They say the extremes could scupper the experiment of a democratic South Africa.

"We are getting drowned out by the rhetoric and by the noise of the politicians and the noise of others," says Henderson on the balcony of his farmhouse. "It is difficult to galvanize the middle, because we tend to be more silent than the extremes. The middle needs to have their voice heard."

West Lafayette
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 81°
Kokomo
Partly Cloudy
77° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 79°
Rensselaer
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Fowler
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 81°
Williamsport
Partly Cloudy
79° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 80°
Crawfordsville
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 81°
Frankfort
Partly Cloudy
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 81°
Delphi
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 79°
Monticello
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 79°
Logansport
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 80°
Sunny and warmer today but a chance of rain for Friday
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 777417

Reported Deaths: 14039
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1068671818
Lake573071031
Allen43592701
Hamilton37697427
St. Joseph37547568
Elkhart29916472
Tippecanoe23779232
Vanderburgh23714405
Porter19712327
Johnson19067395
Hendricks18320323
Clark13789199
Madison13751350
Vigo12980256
Monroe12717180
LaPorte12655225
Delaware11240198
Howard10874237
Kosciusko9860124
Hancock8896151
Bartholomew8361157
Warrick8257157
Floyd8161183
Grant7478181
Boone7317105
Wayne7281201
Morgan7004143
Marshall6381117
Dubois6346118
Cass6136112
Noble608391
Dearborn607878
Henry6015111
Jackson522077
Shelby518498
Lawrence5046129
Gibson473797
Montgomery465592
Clinton464356
DeKalb463985
Harrison460177
Huntington431582
Whitley422545
Steuben415961
Miami412673
Jasper404657
Knox398391
Putnam390262
Wabash374284
Adams360356
Ripley355571
Jefferson354587
White342654
Daviess3119101
Wells306681
Greene299485
Decatur294793
Posey289635
Fayette288164
Scott287658
LaGrange279173
Clay278649
Washington258138
Randolph248784
Jennings245049
Spencer241531
Fountain239350
Starke232159
Owen227359
Sullivan225143
Fulton211146
Jay204332
Carroll201023
Orange194956
Perry194939
Vermillion183944
Rush179427
Tipton174748
Franklin174535
Parke159116
Pike143934
Blackford139032
Pulaski125148
Newton124337
Benton111215
Crawford106817
Brown106743
Martin92715
Warren89115
Switzerland8658
Union73910
Ohio59011
Unassigned0429

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events