OPINION | Leave land that is already in hands of the people

Communities already have a multi-layered process in place for obtaining land to farm on.
Communities already have a multi-layered process in place for obtaining land to farm on.
Image: Getty Images

The Hegebe Traditional Council has discussed the raging debate on expropriation of land without compensation, the question of communal land and its relationship with the institution of traditional leadership.

Unsurprisingly, the understanding of the community was that the land to be expropriated without compensation is the land that Africans were dispossessed of, naturally without compensation, during the colonial wars of dispossession.

It made no sense to the meeting that there could even be talk of expropriation of communal land – let alone without compensation – which is already in the hands of the people.

There were expressions of outrage when the gathering was told of suggestions from some prominent political leaders and organisations that traditional leaders should no longer be allowed to control and administer communal land.

It was inconceivable to them that the land of the Hegebe could ever be dealt with by any so-called democratic structure other than wellknown and time-tested traditional structures.

Playing the devil’s advocate as I did to share the views of those who assert that the institution of traditional leadership is undemocratic, oppressive (especially to women), backward and corrupt (the latter manifesting in illegal sales of land to moneyed foreigners, black and white), I was given a free lecture on democracy, fairness and justice, progress and clean governance.

Since communal land belongs to the people as a group, no single individual has a right to deal with the land in an arbitrary manner. Before any piece of it can be allocated to any person, the immediate community members are given an opportunity to indicate whether they support or oppose such proposed allocation.

The matter is then escalated to the headman and his council for consideration and a decision, whence it is taken to the traditional council for further consideration and ratification.

At each of these levels, interested community members are given a say before finality is reached. Needless to say, the deliberations are all held in the open.

Whenever one applies for a piece of land, especially for residential and/or productive purposes, the question of the marital status of the applicant is raised.

This is because the land, belonging to the community as it does, must at all times be used propitiously and for the benefit of the families that constitute the community.

Single, unmarried individuals, male or female, do not automatically qualify for land allocations for the above-stated purposes; they are considered wards of their parents.

However, where such unmarried individuals show that they have dependents to provide for, they are considered eligible for allocation. This has nothing to do with being male or female.

The fact that even unmarried females can be considered eligible for land allocation demonstrates that traditional ways of life are dynamic and responsive to changing circumstances. Backwardness in such circumstances does not even arise.

There is a standard nominal fee payable by a successful allotment applicant who is a citizen of Hegebeland. This is a fee – usually in the form of a sheep or its nominal monetary equivalent – that goes to the traditional leader, the custodian of the land, for his upkeep. Alongside this fee, known as imbuso, is a token of appreciation presented to the traditional leader and the community members in attendance.

This is normally in the form of liquor, a meal and some entertainment in celebration of the acquisition of the valuable asset by the applicant. It is from this imbuso that the royal residence or great place is able to entertain visitors or the destitute.

There is a different and larger nominal fee payable by an outsider who desires to live in the territory. This is usually a cow or its equivalent nominal value.

The other accompanying refreshments are basically the same. In other words the Hegebe land is not for sale – not to amaHegebe or to outsiders. There is thus no room for corruption.

This land, therefore, is in the hands of its rightful historical owners and is not liable to be expropriated – least of all without compensation – by anyone.

An exception is made when land is required for the public good, such as schools, clinics and community halls. Land for such is availed for free because its use benefits the landowners.

When it came to land outside of communal areas, the socalled 87%, the meeting was unanimous in its support for expropriation without compensation.

Support for the call is based on the simple truth that when the “original sin” was committed, leaving Africans without land, the latter were not compensated.

The soon-to-be dispossessed, though should not be left destitute.

Enough land for their sustenance should be availed to them, while the rest should be shared with the landless Africans.

The gathering pointed out that it is the historical responsibility of all traditional leaders and their community members, whose land was taken by the colonial settlers, to identify such land and claim it for their settlement, now that the 1913 cut-off date will be a thing of the past.

The meeting also assumed that the state knew the extent of land owned by individual South Africans, by the state itself and by communities.

It makes sense, therefore, that the state is in a position to know where to find land that should pose no difficulty to expropriate for distribution to those in need. It could start with its own, then proceed to that owned by beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid, who are endowed with more land than they need for their sustenance.

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