Land policies in South Africa

Sans titre"When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land." Desmond Tutu

Land in South Africa is both a controversial and an important topic. It is controversial because the Native Land Act set in 1913 excluded the vast majority of native South Africans from owning land while favoring the Afrikaners (white settlers). As a matter of fact, only 7% of the agricultural land was set aside for the black population, though they comprised nearly 70% of the population at that time[i]. An important topic it is as the unemployment rate in South Africa is high and is even greater in rural areas. Therefore, restructuring the land could lead to potential social and economic gains.

When Apartheid was brought to an end, a new government was elected and with it the hopes of change for most South Africans. Thus, it is crucial to examine if there has been a significant change in the distribution of land in South Africa since then.

The initiative of the Government 

In 1994, at the end of apartheid, almost 90 percent of the land in South Africa was owned by white South Africans, who make up less than 10 percent of the population[ii]. The newly elected government promised that it will redistribute one third of the land to the black population. It developed two fundamental actions in order to resolve the problem: redistribution and restitution of the land.

At first, the government focused on the redistributing the land. It consists of buying the land from the owners that benefited from the Native Land Act and then restore it to the population that was evicted. This action is also known as the “willing buyer, willing seller” method : in order for the government to obtain the land it has to be bought on the market first. And for the land to be found at the market, it has to be sold by the current owners. Of course, the owners are not forced to sell their land.

But, restitution is another important action undertaken by the South African government and is complementary to distribution. Indeed, this practice consists of donating to the population that has been harmed by the Native Land Act a cash payment rather than the land itself. It is quite a popular deal for poor residents in urban areas that have no desire to return to the rural areas. However, as with any policies, there are limitations to what has been achieved so far…

Limited Actions

The government promised that it would redistribute one third of the land; however; 20 years later less than 10% of the land has been given back.[iii] How can this failure be explained?

Initially, redistributing the land is not enough. Education during Apartheid proved to be insufficient and as a result new owners lack the necessary knowledge and skills required to operate the acquired land. In addition to this, operating a farm also proves to be quite expensive; therefore new owners that suffer from financial constraints do not have the sufficient means to accomplish their work. Such problems need to be addressed in order for South Africa to progress.

Progress and Prospects 

Supporting new farmers is an important step that should be taken by the South African government. Subsidies (money support) could be granted to them. Not only does it facilitate the selling of their agricultural products, it also allows them to buy machinery and equipment that facilitate their work by making it more productive. On a larger scale, more ambitious projects should be proposed by the South African government. Such projects include education and government spending that help future farmers and narrow the gap that was created during Apartheid. South Africa can learn from its neighbours that suffer with the same problem.

On the one hand, there is Zimbabwe with its radical measures such as seizing the land and redistributing it in an arbitrary manner. This method has many implications. At first, it is important to admit that even though South Africa and Zimbabwe share the same problem, they choose to deal with it differently. Mandela’s ANC (African National Congress) fought for racial equality, when it saw that land distribution represented a topic of hatred and potential payback for native South Africans, it was not seen as an urgent objective even though it remained important in the agenda of the government. For instance, when examining at the budget granted to land reform (1% of the South African budget as of 2013)[iv], we can observe that this issue is dealt with caution. Also, confiscating the land (without compensation for the owner) is forbidden by the South African Constitution. In the case of an (unlikely) constitutional reform, such land seizing can harm the South African stability, and can have negative long term consequences.

On the other hand, there is Namibia and its more subtle approach. In Namibia, land has to be bought individually either with the buyer’s own money, or by making a loan facilitated by the Namibian government. This method proves to much more successful as a quarter of the land has been redistributed since the country’s independence in 1990. Surely, South Africa can benefit from the Namibian experience as so far only 8% of the land has been redistributed.[v]

In conclusion, we can assert that the South African government presents noble intentions regarding the reform of land, especially when we examine the procedures made available. However, such methods have proven to be limited. As a solution, the agricultural market should be regulated while supporting new farmers. It is unlikely that in the future extreme solutions such as seizing the land would be proposed as it is illegal and represents too much of a danger for the rainbow nation. Perhaps a change in the methods employed can be expected in the future as President Jacob Zuma recently declared that:  “foreigners will soon be banned from acquiring South African land.

Kgebetli Moele: Room 207

kgebetliWhile writing this article, I realized that this book triggered within me, some sort of delight as well as questions. For some reasons, beyond me, I found that observing this breeding ground, situated at Van der Merwe road, somewhere in Hillbrow (the infamous neighborhood in Johannesburg, known as a place where violence is prevalent) fascinated me. This ill-reputed commuter town was also known as a city of dreams.

Room 207, a breeding ground

A group of six young black south-Africans, products of the post-apartheid period, live together in a dingy room in a building at Hillbrow. They occupy the room 207. They are mostly rejects of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. For most of them, this was a result of financial constraints. Intellectual resources were not enough to take them through this mastodon university that was supposed to help them touch the skies and destroy the glass ceiling of the South-African society.

At the beginning of the novel, the narrator describes the profiles of each room occupant. In truth, they are not all disenchanted students. They also represent the ethnic plurality of South-Africa. They are all black but are also Sotho. Pedi. Zulu. Tswana. However, none is Xhosa. This is an interesting point, as these individuals are not only a reincarnation of the people in power but servants of the economic power of the white.

It is important to note that this book was published in 2007 during Thabo Mbeki’s tenure as president.

Their cohabitation is a happy one. The god, Isando, watches over them during their consolatory episodes of binge drinking. Like all young educated people, the occupants of room 207 buildup a picture of South Africa without the sordid aspects of reality, without accusing her as a culprit in their lot in life.

Self-examination by the South African youth (still in search of themselves)

As I write this article, I find it surprising that, Kgebetli Moele  does not allow his whimsical and pleasure-seeking characters be saddled with mistakes of the past. This is however, not the case in Disgrace, the famous novel of Maxwell Coetzee, Nobel Prize winner for Literature. In Disgrace, the heaviness of the past is adequately felt and the fear of tomorrow resonates loudly.

In Moele’s Room 207, these former students question themselves on the condition of the Black Man (the one singular debate of the African continent), violence and his self-destruction.

There is no reason that can justify the action of men raping a 3-month old baby, shooting aimlessly at a wild crowd during a party and still leave the neighborhood to rot. At least, this is what they discuss without much illusion. It is at this point that Kgebetli Moele makes a great read and allows us relate individually with the lads occupying this room.

Insecurity and Comfort

At this stage, I must describe to you the personality of each of these characters: Modishi, Molamo, Matome, D’Nice, Zulu-Boy and the narrator Noko. Using different value systems, each of them searches for opportunities. With some form of subjectivity, the narrator transcribes these images as representatives of the fight for survival.

He describes the fierce battle, the constraining conditions through which they must go through. For example, they had to ensure they paid monthly installments to a money lender, who they had never laid eyes on but who had at his disposal, an army of slaves who helped him collect his payments. It is metaphoric. The factor of insecurity begins to appear.

The narrator also takes us by the hand, leading us through the town of Hillbrow. This town reminds me of a story that my best friend likwérékwéré* told me. He described it from his state of being a foreigner but of African descent, who almost lost his life on a side walk. Here we see that, Kgebetli Moele, narrates without mercy, the issue of Xenophobia, through the lips of Zulu-Boy.

I think that beyond the unattached style of the writer-which resonates through the discussion of these young men, the high point of the novel is the final exit from room 207. Their exit from comfort and then from Hillbrow-which most of them abhor. Kgebetli Moele succeeds in taking the reader to space where he is confronted by the terrifying reality of life.

In the same space, same breeding ground, some find their way and others perish. It is heart-breaking, touching …it is today’s South Africa…it is life. It is good literature.

Now, let us talk about the carnal relationship that exists between JoBurg, Hillbrow and its residents:

Welcome to Johannesburg. This time you really felt it. Your blood has been poured and mixed with its sands. You are now in perfect sync with the town. Your blood runs in its veins and it also runs in your blood.

Translated by Onyinyechi Ananaba

Room 207, Kgebetli Moele – published in 2007 by Kwela Books –Translated to French by David Koënig, in 2010, 269 pages


Bruce Clarke, a Political Painter

Bruce Clarke was not born in South Africa. His parents who were anti-apartheid activists were forced into exile in London. It was at the School of Fine Arts, University of Leeds, that Bruce Clarke discovered his love for the Arts and Languages in the 1980’s. Following in the path of the fathers of Conceptualism, he began painting against the painting, that is to say that he became involved in decorative painting. This led him to begin merging his love for plastic arts and his need to express his militant discourse.


His unique technique gave birth to works of art that reflect a mix of different materials (newspapers, posters, lingual signs, paint splatter, etc.), which rub against, encounter and confront each other. At the same time, they all blend together expressing a new and different meaning. Clarke explains further, ‘‘on the canvas, words and colors, words and images mix up and metamorphose. Each fragment we find or choose has to be decontextualized before they can take up a new meaning- a meaning that may not be the same we beheld at first glance. A transfiguration takes place, a transformation in fact. In a way, I tear down to build-up again.’’

Above all, these elegant graphic compositions are tools for visual and mental deconstruction. They serve to opacify and as well enlighten the mind on contemporary history and on the genealogy of our representations of the African body and its corollary, Africa.

In our present age, where the idea of Contemporary art rhymes with the powers of financial capitalism, the words comitted artist have progressively emptied themselves of all meaning. For Bruce Clarke, the words political artist refer in a way to his work, which involves the exploration of the different forms of domination which were inflicted on and which are still being inflicted on him…on this infamous object: The African body. The African body that was banished and objectified by slavery, battered and beaten by the colonial regime, evicted and starved in the post-colonial era. It remained, all along, a desired body but also, a commodity.

Bruce Clarke has a structural vision of the world that shows the coercive force of the diverse forms of domination and their effects on the actual body and the represented image of the Black man.

Beyond his exploration of the political existence of these oppressed lives, Bruce Clarke communicates a silent message, which is absent but at the same time present. This message reaches out to us through uncompromising gazes, unexpressed rages, submissive but rebellious postures of these characters. Bruce Clarke is certainly one of the greatest stylists of the black body, revealing the intimate battles against the effects of predatory power.


He uncovers the living conditions of the African body and at the same time he constructs some sort of biopolitical message which asks the question: under what material and psychological conditions has the Black Man been able to survive since the dawn of western modernity? His works are a representation of a life that struggles to exist. They are a representation of the wretched of the earth and as Sartre would put it, their tenacity to survive. Brutalized, flogged and oppressed on sugar cane fields, defeated and crushed in numerous resistance movements-where the spear met the gun, starved by bloodthirsty, cannibalistic tyrants who claimed to be brothers, the object of Clarke’s works-The African Body, shows that he rises above very death wish.

With every baneful situation, Clarke’s object- The African Body, shows his will to live.

Bruce Clarke carries on the legacy of his parents in his fight against Apartheid. This shows on the products of his canvas: the lines, shapes, colors, and signs and in his involvment in public action. He was one of the leaders of the project Art against Apartheid held in France. This project sponsored by numerous artists involves a travelling contemporary art exhibition. This will be the starting-point for the future South African post-Apartheid contemporary art museum.

After the democratisation of South Africa, Bruce Clarke became interested in the war in Rwanda especially in the first phases of genocide. After he made a post-genocide photo report, he decided to create a site close to Kigali called The Garden of Memories. A memorial stone sculpture, which was put up in collaboration with the war survivors who came to lay stones in memory of their loved ones.

In fact, Clarke’s different paintings show us their attachment to these bodies and the way they desperately cling to a promise held precious by every human beinga hope for a better life. The becoming of the black body is partly explained in the concept called Upright Men, which was presented at the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Rwandan genocide.

These men, women and children that were victims of the barbarism that stole the last hope that we had in human nature, are now made alive through the paintings of Bruce Clarke. The human is not far from the beast… Beautiful, poetic and political tributes have been given to these human beings (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, up to 1 000 000), who were victims of administrators who decided to separate the Tutsis as the better ethnic group and left the others to think themselves more savage than beasts. This continued till the 100 days of madness when even the Devil feared man.

For Clarke, “these shadows are silent but reincarnate witnesses, which give life to the dead. At the same time, they symbolize the dignity of human life, which was confronted by the mother of all crimes- the denial of the right to life to a whole group of people.

The objective is to publicize this historical event, which has been perceived as an African tragedy. Even so, it serves to remind humanity that in the 20th century, many other genocides took place despite the resolutions and discourse that came after the genocide of the Armenians and the Jews.”

Above this universal memorial for these victims (remembering their names, life paths, smiles and aspirations), Upright men represents all the Rwandans today who have to bear the brunt of this situation, that is, live all together after the war. In more precise words, it involves buying a shirt for someone who slit your mother’s throat after raping her, selling a phone to someone who joyfully butchered a child, riding the bus together, sitting with others in public offices and churches. They have to try to rebuild a life together that was destroyed, because life does not end because horrors begin. In real sense, living together (for all Rwandans- victims or perpetrators), despite all the carcasses around them, is a way of standing tall.

Nguma-300x196Such artistic work cannot be accomplished alone. It has to be done with other visual artists, Rwandans and Africans, so as to ensure the longevity of the idea of Upright Men. In so doing, it will be in itself a designated memorial, an intimate witness of this unspeakable event, which we must tell of.


The works of Bruce Clarke are an autopsy of the black body, who has been a receptor of the most extreme acts of domination (as a lab rat which has been tested to the extreme). Put side by side, these canvases unfold the long African history and open up a dark dialogue on these memories. These reincarnated beings are a constant reminder of the man-made malediction that hit the continent.

 Drowned in the darkness of enlightenment, the Black Man was taught to “tighten his belt, like a valiant man” [1], without ever tasting the fruit.

Bruce Clarke certainly shows the tragedy of the Black Man, but he also exposes the indomitable strength of one, who every day, courts the idea of death as an intrusive neighbor. In reality, no previous series of this artist has ever exposed such cruel optimism and as well, celebrated the idea of life with macabre signs.

[1] Notebook of a Return to Native Land/ Aimé Césaire. – Paris: Présence africaine, 1956

Tabué Nguma

Translated by : Onyinyechi Ananaba

Bruce Clarke Website:

The project Upright men:


Democracy without accountability: South Africa, Zuma and the « Nkandlagate »

ANC-ZumaSouth Africa has lately become restless with a new scandal that is slowly stealing the limelight from the Oscar Pistorius scandal. The cameras have left, at least temporarily, the highly-mediatized trial of the murder-accused athlete to focus on a much more important issue to the South African democracy: the upgrade at an exorbitant cost of President Jacob Zuma's private residence. 

Zuma owns a private house in Nkandla, a town in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. One of his wives live in the estate, a kraal designed in accordance with Zulu traditions. When he became President in 2009, he decided to upgrade the Nkandla homestead, alleging the need for security improvements. This was the beginning of a huge scandal that is still making the headlines.

As early as 2009, South Africa's leading daily newspaper, The Mail & Guardian, broke the Nkandla story and disclosed its huge cost and its opaque financing, estimated at the time at 65 million rand (€5 million). Five years later, the expenses have quadrupled. Nklandla has cost at least 246 million rand (€17 million). In contrast, the security upgrades to former President Thabo Mbeki's private residence cost a mere €800,000. Among Nkandla's "security" improvements: a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, a full-sized soccer field, a cattle enclosure and a chicken run.  

Since the case was brought to public attention, questions have been raised about the origin of the money used to carry out these upgrades. For a long time, Zuma denied using public funds for his private benefit, claiming that only the security improvements which were required by his presidential status were funded by the state. This version of events, questioned by a series of media investigations, eventually collpased last week after the publication by South Africa's Public Protector Thula Madonsela of a damning report. In this 433 page document, Madonsela provided accurate details on how the President used public funds for works that had absolutely nothing to do with security, and she is now requesting the President to pay back "a reasonable percentage of the expenditure". The architect who supervised the construction happens to be a friend of Jacob Zuma: he was appointed by the President himself, in violation of tendering processes for public works. He reportedly took advantage of this connection to raise his fees and pocket about €2 million himself. Even more critically, the President is accused of misleading inquiries parliamentary inquiries on the subject with repeated false statements.    

This is far from Zuma's first encounter with the South African judiciary. In 2007, he faced 783 charges of corruption, fraud, extotion and money laundering, and his financial advisor was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment. Given the seriousness of the accusations and the media coverage of the "Nkandlagate", he could face trial again. As the Public Protector's report was published, two opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) officially lodged a complaint against the President for corruption and misuse of public funds.

However, it is mainly through its political consequences (or non-consequences?) that the Nkandla scandal is raising issues. This new scandal confirms one more time the excesses of the South-African democracy that is considered to be one of the most robust democracies on the African continent. The (con)fusion between the state and the ANC which has characterised South African politics since the end of apartheid has worsened under Zuma. The President has built himself a business empire while governing the country: Zuma and 15 relatives now control more than 130 companies, three-quarters of which were registered in the past few years. Government decisions are increasingly influenced by the private interests of senior party officials or their entourage. With everyone trying to get the largest slice of the pie, the party is increasingly subject to divisions and factionalism. South Africa's political life is now largely determined by the balance of power between the ANC's different tendencies and the outcome of their internecine fighting. 

In many other democracies, a scandal such as Nkandla would have been enough to bring the downfall of the President and his government… but obviously, not in South Africa. The party in power is divided; the state is undermined by corruption; two years ago the police cold-bloodedly killed  34 minors while attempting to repress a protest and the investigation is at a standstill; the economy is struggling to recover from the economic downturn, the national currency has experienced one of its worst depreciations… And nevertheless, the ANC system survives and does not seem at risk of collapsing anytime soon. The party's popularity has waned over the past years and support at the polls is eroding. Yet, considering the recurrent scandals and the government's poor performance, the fall is surprisingly slow. According to the latest surveys, the ANC is expected to retain a comfortable majority (about 60 percent) at the May 7th general elections. Zuma is heading for re-election, and if the surveys are to be trusted, the Nkandla affair will have little influence over the election results.

Among the reasons most frequently cited to account for the ANC's resilience is the weakness of opposition parties. The Democratic Alliance may have doubled its share of the vote in the past decade, but it is still struggling to expand beyond its traditional Western Cape stronghold and to reach out to the non-white, non-coloured electorate. It will probably not reach more than 30 percent of votes in May. The Congress of the People (COPE), which had brought together in the 2009 elections dissident members of the ANC disappointed by Thabo Mbeki's ousting, has now collapsed. The new leftist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters is having a hard time rallying support, despite the charismatic personality of its president and founder, Julius Malema, the former president of the ANC Youth League: surveys predict that the EFF should not exceed 4 percent of the votes.  

The argument is obviously hard to disprove: voters need to be convinced by attractive alternative solutions to turn away from the ANC, and these alternatives are currently lacking credibility. However, there are two other deeper causes that explain why the party manages to maintain such a powerful position.

–          On the one hand, the widening gap within South African society between urban areas – where a more "cosmopolitan' electorate increasingly rejects the ANC's governance practices -, and rural areas, where the ANC has maintained an near-total control.

–          On the other hand, a peculiar historical context, which has deeply influenced the demands of South African citizens for government accountability.

Since the end of apartheid, South African society has changed radically, and studying social relations only through a racial lens is certainly not sufficient. it would be clearly simplistic to study social relations only through the racial lens. Since the mid-1990s, South Africa has rapidly embraced globalisation; yet, this integration was partial and mostly limited to the cities, who benefited from an influx of investors, tourists and migrants from all over the world. Cities like Johanesburg, Cape Town or Durban have become global metropolitan centres, well-connected and integrated to the world-system. Their residents, immersed in political and economic liberalism, are often very critical of the ANC's clientelist practices. Meanwhile, South Africa's rural areas have been largely excluded from globalization. The ANC, which was paradoxically an urban movement until the end of apartheid, has reached out to the countryside, where it now exerts a near-total control. In these isolated areas suffering from high unemployment, ANC officials have managed more easily to position themselves as local patrons and to develop clientelist systems, guaranteeing proper rewards for their loyal supporters and making sure that no other party would threaten their local control. These rural regions today guarantee the ANC's continued electoral success. 

Moreover, the attitude of South African citizens and taxpayers towards government and public management is still influenced by the country's historical legacy. In a society where inequalities are extreme, and still strongly related to racial issues, the population does not reprehend the accumulation of wealth by a black elite. Such practices are not seen as corruption or misuse of funds but rather as examples of self-achievement and individual success. Individuals such as Malema and Zuma, by becoming nouveaux riches, are viewed as attacking the issue of existing inequalities,throwing the first stone against the citadel of white economic domination, and that inspires respect. It does not fundamentally matter that their wealth may have been built by the misuse of public funds; and that is why some South Africans still believe that the Nkandla scandal should be regarded as a private issue, unrelated to the management of public affairs.

Rural areas have not been much exposed yet to Western principles of electoral democracy. They are not entirely familiar with the key notion of "sanction-vote". In mature democratic systems, people in power have to account for their actions. Voters evaluate government performance during its last mandate and decide whether they will trust the members of the government again or sanction them. This demand for results is a short-term requirement, which accounts for regular changes in power.

 In South Africa's young democracy, the memory of the apartheid is still vivid and the requirement for results does not the same frequency. Voters evaluate results on the long term, and not only with regard to the last presidential mandate. The past mandate of the ANC in power was undoubtedly tainted by a range of problems and excesses. However, in the past two decades, its results are undeniable: the situation has certainly improved for rural populations since the end of the apartheid. And many voters still consider that a good enough reason to continue voting for the ANC and Jacob Zuma, regardless of Nkandla, its swimming pool and its football pitch…

Translated by Bushra Kadir