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Cherryl Walker and Ben Cousins Launch Land Divided, Land Restored with Nomboniso Gasa at WiSER

Launch: Land Divided, Land Restored

Cherryl Walker and Ben Cousins recently launched their book, Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century, in the company of Nomboniso Gasa at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER). The discussion was chaired by Keith Breckenridge.
Launch: Land Divided, Land RestoredLand Divided, Land RestoredWalker, a professor of sociology at the University of Stellenbosch and a former land commissioner, said the cover photograph by David Goldblatt reflects the key questions in the book: How should we talk about the past and what are the current challenges of land ownership? She said there is an urgent need for an informed, critical discussion of land reform, and while there are no easy answers the book offers analytical tools that will inform the way we speak and think about land issues.

Land is both a rural and an urban concern, Walker said. Land Divided, Land Restored reassesses the uneven impact of The Natives Land Act of 1913 and casts a critical eye on the treatment of traditional institutions and leaders by the current government. The chapter by Antjie Krog also explores the myriad meanings of land. “We tend to ossify meanings, whereas meanings can change,” Walker said.

Launch: Land Divided, Land RestoredWalker’s chapters ask: Is the restitution process the most appropriate way to think about redress? “This book is not a disavowal of the need for redress,” she said. It begs better and alternative solutions, such as investment and education. The problem with restitution is the notion of going back to a “true ownership”, while our history of attachment and ownership is much more fluid, complex and multilayered.

Walker questioned the State’s capacity to meet their promises of land redress, saying that it will take 35 years to deal with the 397 000 claims: “It’s setting up the process for failure and diverting large sums of money that could be spent elsewhere.”

Cousins unpacked the “yawning gap between rhetoric and reality” by delving into Jacob Zuma’s promises in his State of the Nation speech about land ownership. Banning foreign ownership of land is neither here nor there for the rural poor, while the 50/50 equity scheme is irrelevant to farm workers, who didn’t ask for equity share in the first place, he said.

Launch: Land Divided, Land RestoredWe must understand the systemic nature of the problems of land reform, Cousins said, and provided a few suggestions to explain what is going on at the moment.

The strengthening of traditional chiefs’ powers is a strategic move by government, while land policies have elicited a heady mix of populism and nationalism. Cousins spoke about the weak capacities of government structures, the concentration of capital in certain sectors (BEE), the high barriers to entry to the economic sector, the weak organisations of the poor, and the disconcerting shift to authoritarianism by the State. We need a paradigm shift, he said: “Stop engaging with policies.” Communities need to mobilise broadly and widely in the rural sector and at grassroots level, while intellectuals need to think of alternative ways to deal with issues of land distribution.

Gasa reflected on the public debates that took place during the centenary of the 1913 Land Act, which gave rise to the writing of Land Divided, Land Restored. She said that the government did not engage with the content, context or subject and that there is a general unwillingness to discuss issues of substance that are in contradiction with the interests of parties.

Launch: Land Divided, Land Restored“On the surface it appears as if things are chaotic, that the levels of incompetence are out of control. I think it’s a very calculated, organised chaos,” Gasa said. “Clearly something else is going on.”

Gasa spoke about the realignment of forces around land in South Africa – “regrettably very similar to 1913″. She said that 1913 was not the pivotal moment in our country’s history as modern discourse insists. “It was a brutal moment, but it needed other parts of a framework for it to be perpetuated.” Today the dominant voices of government, traditional leaders and capitalism are amplifying issues of food security to ensure that more land is taken away from the people, she said.

In 1913 the State stripped Africans of their ownership of land. Today the State is denying people the right to own land. “People’s rights to own land are undermined by the same government that are meant to uphold them,” Gasa said, in reference to the proposed Traditional Courts Bill which gives considerable power to traditional leaders and locks rural people into the bantustan areas of the apartheid era.

Gasa said the difference between a movement and a struggle lies in the levels of state brutality and response. She spoke about the lost narratives of struggle in rural KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, where levels of brutality manifest in burning villages, silencing the most vulnerable of people.

Land Divided, Land Restored unearths all of these issues and more, in an attempt to stimulate thoughtful conversations about the future of our country.

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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:



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Book details

  • Land Divided, Land Restored: Land Reform in South Africa for the 21st Century edited by Cherryl Walker and Ben Cousins
    EAN: 9781431409679
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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