||How long does the LPM exist?
The LPM was officially launched on 23-24 July, 2001. This was the culmination of an historical process. Since the 1920s South Africa has never had a national land movement, and I talk about movement in the most general fashion. Rural organisational weakness explains why it was so easy to compromise on the land question during the negotiations for democratic change in South Africa in the early 1990s. The foundations of the “new” South Africa are built on the idea that the land stolen during the long colonial and later apartheid periods will not be returned to the dispossessed. We have to buy back the land through the same process that has been aggressively promoted by the World Bank in other parts of the world. The tragedy is that in South Africa we entered the “market-assisted land reforms” without the usual World Bank-gun-on-the-head situation. In fact, at times the World Bank sounds more radical than the government here.
The rise of the LPM can be explained in my view from three linked factors. Firstly, the dismal failure of the post-apartheid land reform programme. In 1994, the government promised to deliver 30% of the country’s agricultural land (about 25.5 million hectares) in the first five years – that is by 1999. In that period they only redistributed about one percent and the rural landless workers, who we call here farm workers, where facing continued evictions, such that it is possible that the redistribution has been at zero percent due to the further dispossession brought by these evictions. In nine years the whole land reform programme has redistributed just over two percent of agricultural land. We calculate that it would take at least 120 years to redistribute the 30% at the current pace. And note that I am only talking about 30%. We believe it could take up to 400 years to have a substantial land reform in SA. It’s basically an unworkable situation.
That is the first reason, the second factor is the experience of Zimbabwe. It seem to me that the land reclamation process which intensified in Zimbabwe from 1998 to 2002 gave land-hungry South Africans confidence in the possibility of taking land from the settler colonialists. But for this to happen in the South African context requires a level of organisation. The third, and I think very important, factor is the anti-corporate globalisation movement. The opportunities to travel and be influenced are greater, but there is also a sense in which the globalisation from below movement demands some level of representation that cannot be given by proxy. The land struggle in South Africa has been dominated by NGOs, and it’s an interesting question to ask how have they facilitated or actually hampered the emergence of a landless people’s movement. But the possibilities of engaging beyond our borders had a big impact on the emergence of the LPM. Particularly the MST of Brazil, which I think the LPM is greatly influenced and inspired by. In the last national assembly of the MST some NGO activists had an opportunity to see a landless people’s movement in motion. They came back to South Africa greatly inspired and awe struck by the achievements of the MST under similar conditions as those in South Africa. That visit, in my view, assisted us to imagine a landless people’s movement. I think the movements in India and Bangladesh and to a lesser extent the Philippines, have also contributed something to the ideological make-up of some leading activists in the LPM. I think the three factors found each other at an opportune time. So you could say from its inception the LPM had international connections. It has a partner in La Via Campesina and is actually planning a solidarity visit to the MST la
ter this year.
How different is LPM from the National Land Committee?
The NLC is a land-rights non-governmental organisation (NGO) comprising about 10 land NGOs throughout SA. Parts of the NLC are more than 25 years old. In the absence of organisation and resistance focusing on the land question, the NLC played a significant role during the anti-apartheid struggle. In the aftermath of 1994, it “critically engaged” through lobbying and implementation of the land reform programme. I think 1999 was critical in pushing the NLC towards supporting mobilisation. You will remember that the ruling party, the ANC, had by then adopted its neoliberal macroeconomic framework (Gear) in 1996, and still got a majority in the polls in 1999. It seems to me that this gave the ANC confidence to pursue its neoliberal agenda more aggressively, which meant that market-assisted land reform would be the key programme, and civil society was not going to be consulted. In short, the NLC is an NGO and the LPM is a social movement or a people’s organisation. The LPM draws its mandate from its members and is
structurally de-linked from the NLC. But, it is also fair to say that at this point the LPM depends a lot on the support from the NLC and this has its own problems. I’m sure the MST can tell us more about its relationship with the church in its formative years. I can see a dialectical tension in the future between the LPM and the NLC.
How many landless people are there in SA? I've heard a figure of 26 million for example?
I think that is the figure more or less. If you break it down you will see that we have seven-million farm dwellers, about 12 million people live in former homelands or reserves, and need land, then you have about seven-million urban landless.
How do you define landless?
We define landless as all people with land needs, and we do not make a distinction of whether people need land for housing or farming. However, it is clear to us that the majority of landless are people who want land for building livelihoods. What we have also discovered is that the “rural-urban divide” is actually false. Many workers in the urban
centres can no longer hope to find work in industry, so to feed themselves and their families are increasingly looking to produce on land. So you will find in our definition of landless people who have made land claims, and those who have made requests for land through government processes. The concept landless is also about what kind of society we desire. We understand that on land rest many processes that go deep in understanding how people live and relate to each other and to nature. So defining oneself as landless implies that you are calling for fundamental change in relations in the broader society.
How much of the land belongs to whites?
Less than 1% of the population, about 65 000 whites, hold more than 80% of the land in South Africa nine years after the birth of our democracy.
Is it the best land?
Yes, in fact of the 122-million hectares which makes up SA, about 14 million is highly productive, but only 10 million is used to feed the nation and for exports by about 400-5000 huge commercial farmers. Commercial agriculture contributes less than 5% to GDP, and most of theland is actually highly under-utilised. One estimate shows that South Africa can redistribute 77-million hectares of land tomorrow without affecting the economy at all.
How much of the land is unused or unproductive? Is such land considered legal property?
As I say, most of the land is under-utilised and unproductive in South Africa. All property rights are protected by the Constitution. But the same Constitution does make provisions for expropriation. However, since 1994 we have not seen one case of expropriation for land redistribution, although a lot of land is expropriated for other reasons. The government is totally committed to buying back the land, to the extent that desperate people who occupy land are brutally removed and criminalised.
How much is state land?
Even the State is unable to answer that question, but we understand that it is minimal. Although the former homelands (the 13% occupied by black people at the end of apartheid) where the majority of black rural people still live is technically “state land”, this is obviously not available for land reform.
Who are the main leaders of the LPM?
People who are landless. There are some people who are seen as the faces of the movement, such as the National Organiser, Mangaliso Kubheka, who attended the last World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, and Maureen Mnisi, the Projects and Education Officer, and the Deputy Chairpersion, Patrick Mojapelo. The national leadership of the LPM has a balanced gender representation, and I think women are the most militant section of the movement. But, we have to deal with machismo all the time and other differences such as language (about 12 languages are spoken in SA), tribe and regionalism. I also think there is thin layer of activist cum intellectuals who have some influence on the movement and are based in the NLC.
What is different between Brazil and SA?
Firstly, we do not have a Constitution that allows for occupation of unused land. Secondly, we do not have a movement as dynamic and powerful as the MST and a political force such as the PT. These to me explain the differences in terms of hopes for agrarian reforms. We also do not have a layer of intellectuals (university based) who are concerned with the land question. That is where the differences end. I think we have much more in common: we had Mandela up to four years ago as head of state, and Brazil has Lula, both loved by the world, both soft politicians who in my view have no possibility of leading us against the imperialist onslaught. You had Cardoso, a neo-liberal who had basically built a social, economic and political infrastructure which requires demolition if you going to satisfy the needs of the people; our current president is not only a friend of Cardoso, but also a respected promoter of neoliberal policies. South Africa faces the same challenges.. Well, one could say you are only getting a Mandela a little later than us, but there is very little to suggest that you will be any better post-Lula. So we are actually looking at the MST as an example of what should be a permanent state of a people’s power. One hopes that Brazil learns fromSouth Africa that a big man - whether loved or hated - may not be the solution. I say this mindful of the great contributions of Presidents Chavez and Castro.
How does the government deal with the question of land reform?
It has a religious faith in the possibilities of the market to deliver land. I actually think the government is not convinced that land reform
could solve some of our acute problems, such a hunger and joblessness. The dominant developmental paradigm is modernism in the sense that it looks up to Europe and industry instead of the land as a starting point. Our government would rather spend money building a small layer of a black capitalist class than on building agro-based livelihoods that must be driven by access to land and inputs. Somehow, they seem to believe that the “trickle down” will happen in the long run, but you know what Keynes said about that: “In the long run we are dead”.
What were the most recent achievements of the LPM in court and justice?
Generally the LPM does not use the courts intensively. Maybe this is a weakness, but others believe as I do that the courts yield very little here. There have been some real ground-breaking decisions by the Constitutional Court, such as the affirmation of the right to shelter and legal representation. These cases where brought by NGOs. But, the implementation of the decisions has become such a job that the effects on the ground are minimal. We also see that the most effective civil society organisation fighting for access to anti-retrovirals for people who are HIV-positive have been a roller coaster basically, with spectacular court victories but no implementation. The LPM does support court challenges to improve the rights of the landless, and just last month the LPM staged a protest at the Land Claims Court supporting an NGO-lead court challenge to the denial of farm dwellers’ burial rights by big commercial farmers.
Were people killed during the struggle for land?
Yes, there are always cases of death, but mostly, it is when people resist removals in the urban informal settlements, which I think are called favelas in Brazil. The forced removals are brutal and almost always illegal, since the government does not even bother to seek court orders as required by law. There is always shooting, blood and general harassment accompanying the removals. In the greater Johannesburg alone, the Council has decided to remove about 900 000 people this year. Most of these communities are not informed and will be surprised one morning by the “Red Ants” - the private security companies that effect the removals. But people are fighting back, and we have launched a “Stop Forced Removals & Evictions” campaign with other movements. It is import to note that the forced removals and evictions are both urban and rural.
Do they face resistance from landowners?
The police, sections of the army, the courts are on the side of the landowner. This is acute in the countryside. Every time the LPM has staged a peaceful and legal demonstration in Mpumalanga province, they have suffered arrests or harassment by the police, some of which are identified as local landowners. The landowners also have their private security companies who actually operate as private armies, they maim, kill, and exile a lot of people with impunity. We have in cases institute some legal challenges, but there is no possibility of
successful prosecution, since the entire rural justice system is linked closely with the farmers.. We have then looked at civil claims and we are hopping for some limited successes in this area as well. It is important to know that the organised landowners are a very powerful lobby. They are held up as those who feed the nation and are important economic players. But, the big farmer in South Africa is also the slave master and a crude racist.
What parallels can be traced between South Africa's land reform and the situation in Zimbabwe?
For the first 10 years after independence, that is 1980-1990, the Zimbabweans were forced by the peace agreement with the settler colonialists and Britain to do land reform through the market. They delivered very little, although they did much better than the South African government has done. Around 1992, Zimbabwe adopted a structural adjustment programme, and that killed the possibility of doing land reform since, as we know, the structural adjustment programmes are driven by the Washington Consensus ideological outlook which drives the state out of society and imposes the markets as a new God.
On the other hand, you have South Africa, which has voluntarily gone the SAP way and imposed on itself the market-led land reform that did not work in Zimbabwe or anywhere else in the world. In both countries you have the majority, which is the African population that is land hungry and who believe that the land held by white settlers is stolen property. In other words, you have a situation of a deep historical grievance and deepening poverty and alienation and general white racist arrogance. I think the latter is more acute in SA. These for me create thefoundations of crisis, rupture and confrontation. What is interesting is that the South African government behaves just like the Zimbabweangovernment in its early years, constantly assuring the white landowners
that nothing will happen, and the white landowner in return gets morearrogant and greedy. I sometimes even wonder why they did not give blackpeople parliament long ago, because they really did not have to fight so hard if they knew that their privileged positions would be so protected by a black government. But, when the constellation of forces change -and they will - no one is going to feel sorry for the big greedy white commercial farmer who is hoarding the land instead of sharing it. The white landowners are basically still living in the colonial era and are encouraged by the current government to maintain this silly status. I do not think it can last. Some studies show that many Africans in South Africa believe that land must be returned to Blacks irrespective of the consequences. This is the situation Zimbabwe that finds itself today. I
think it irrelevant to say that Mugabe has gone the land redistribution route for political expedience: any politician is going to take advantage of a felt need in society.
This interview with Andile Mngxitama was conducted by Sean Jacobs for the Brazillian newspaper Brasil de Fato.
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