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The land of nobody


The issue of land expropriation without compensation is certainly a subject that needs to be addressed, debated and taken very, very seriously

File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

As I was sitting at the public hearings to amend the constitution in Kimberley on Saturday, I was reminded of just how far South Africa has come in the last few decades but also just how far we still need to go.

The issue of land expropriation without compensation is certainly a subject that needs to be addressed, debated and taken very, very seriously, and judging by the varying reactions of the audience at the city hall it was made abundantly clear that it seems to be receiving the due treatment.

Residents of the Province are obviously passionate about property ownership as our very livelihood is based on who does what with what they have at their disposal, who chooses who possesses what and who does what for the benefit (or detriment) of who.

Well, so I thought as the hearings began.

However, with every person who took the floor and gave their input, I realised that very few, if any, in attendance were actually listening to anyone who was not regurgitating their personal sentiments back to them.

Instead, many facts that didn’t support certain agendas were ridiculed as misinformation or propaganda promoting the evil agenda of the ridiculous.

White people were all land thieves, black people were all land grabbers and government was all corrupt.

While there is plenty of evidence to support one of these points of view, the other two have much of their basis in misinformation, propaganda and ridiculous agendas … but few of those in attendance on Saturday seemed to care.

Especially not those who were only there to hear the echo of their take on things and to make enough noise to drown out anyone who disagreed.

Land expropriation, with or without compensation, is one of those contentious issue that will inevitably stir up emotion.

However, it is of such a nature that decisions in this regard need level-headed attention and consideration in order to determine the best outcome.

An amicable resolution will only be found through objective reasoning with minimal emotional influence.

This is not a simple issue and is anything but black and white but sadly, like many other legacies of our past, South Africans still view everything as black and white and find grey areas far too unfamiliar to comprehend.

The truth is that before apartheid, and colonialism, and tribalism, and black, and white, there was land.

Once upon a time, there was no conflict, tension, prejudice and ridicule. There were no borders, nor fences, nor signs warning that “trespassers will be prosecuted”.

There was a time when there were no title deeds, no rights, no “legitimate” claim of ownership.

Many years ago, there was no mine, or yours, or theirs or ours. There wasn’t even an us.

Before all the bitching, breaking and bickering all there was was land and you know what – it didn’t belong to anyone until someone decided that it did.

Then, suddenly, the land belonged to all of us but nobody else. So, we started fighting, to the death, to defend it and never stopped.

As a species, we are so busy congratulating ourselves for evolving beyond our own control that we never thought of taking a step back to consider whether all this progress for profit, rather than prosperity, was an improvement or simply grease for the wheels that are transporting us to our own inevitable demise.

Maybe, at some point someone said: “Stop, that doesn’t belong to you but it doesn’t belong to me either.”

If there were such a person, they were probably killed on the spot.

Land was here before us and will be here when the last title deed lapses. How can anyone truly claim ownership of the universal birthright of all life?