South Africa struggles to confront a legacy of apartheid

By | May 4, 2019

Christopher Clark writes from Zolani:

On the outskirts of this overcrowded township in South Africa’s Cape Winelands, Phumlani Zota, a 32-year-old pig farmer, sifted through piles of waste in a refuse dump beneath the Langeberg mountains, filling a burlap sack with scraps of food for his livestock. “There is not enough land here,” he told me.

Yet on all sides, the impoverished settlement was hemmed in by great tracts of white-owned farmland, neat rows of fruit trees and grapevines punctuated by ornate Cape Dutch architecture.

The disjuncture is jarring, but mirrored all over South Africa. During apartheid, Zolani was designated a “blacks only” area by the Group Areas Act, one of about two dozen federal policies that dramatically restricted black South Africans’ access to land and opportunity. Today, the township stands as contemporary evidence of the wholesale land dispossessions carried out by successive colonial regimes, from the 17th century until as recently as the 1980s.

According to a 2017 land audit by the South African government, 72 percent of the country’s arable land remains in the hands of whites, who account for fewer than 10 percent of the total population. Since the ruling African National Congress came to power in 1994, under the stewardship of Nelson Mandela, one of its central undertakings has been to relieve this disparity. But to date, the spotty efficacy of the ANC’s land-restitution efforts has seen barely a quarter of such land restored to black farmers, according to the farmers’ organization AgriSA.

Now, with general elections slated for May, the renewed promise of meaningful and long-overdue land reform is once again a key feature of the ANC’s political campaign. The country’s lack of progress on resolving the issue speaks not just to the varied issues facing South Africa—from poor economic growth to spiraling unemployment—but also to the broader difficulty of finding practical solutions to redress historical injustice. It is a challenge informed not only by domestic politics, but also by years of chaos in neighboring Zimbabwe, which has seen ill-fated attempts at land redistribution of its own. [Continue reading…]

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