I’ve been so afraid of talking about this subject, particularly on an online platform, because we live in an age where if you say something uninformed and politically incorrect – you stand the chance of not only costing yourself your professional credibility, but you can take an entire company down with you.
Having said all that, I’d like to broach the land conversation, and from this perspective: I’m a white woman. I am previously advantaged, and privileged.
I would like to think that I am involved and responsible South African and try and take part in the necessary conversations, hoping to take the appropriate seat when it is needed (by the way – that’s most of the time).
But I would however like to take responsibility when that is called for too without being perceived as being patronising either.
If I’ve learnt one thing from standup comedy – it’s this: never underestimate your audience… so never underestimate your reader. But also: give enough framing for someone to fully understand where you are coming from and what you are trying to illustrate.
I’m aware that we are in new territory as a democracy, we are transitioning, and in an era where information is freely available, and also – viral.
So one could argue that as a privileged individual who benefited from the legacies of apartheid, I should truly be fully informed about what land expropriation means – because the information is everywhere – and for the most part – free.
Our political climate is also changing, and there is a lot of news to process almost every single day, and to truly stay woke, one has to dedicate a fair amount of time to being engaged.
So whether you’re listening to radio, reading columns, reading books, listening to podcasts or watching some sort of investigative news show – you still might not fully understand what it all means, and what your responsibility in the space is.
Now – without passing the buck – what we need to highlight is that there hasn’t to date been an effective state-run land reform program.
And before we get into land grabs, and “We’re gonna be just like Zimbabwe”… there’s a book I’d like to suggest you read: ‘Democracy and Delusion’ a book by Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh – he demystifies 10 South African political myths. One of which is that land reform threatens stability.
He speaks of restitution, redistribution and tenure reform. You can revert to his book for more detail on this, and next week I’d like to go into more detail about solutions and our involvement as individual citizens but for now I would like to explain what the land represents, in a kind of metaphor – because this is more than land itself that needs to be returned, it’s dignity, self worth, value, systemic support and justice.
Have you ever taken a track top or pants from a house mate without their permission and kind of “forgotten” to return them? And before you know it, it’s become your favourite comfy item, you’ve had it for six months and seasons have changed. It fits on your body as if you were born wearing it. It's lost its original colour and texture, but it's your second skin now and you don’t care anymore.
(Keeping in mind that in this world of this metaphor Sindiwe is not allowed to buy her own clothes and the clothes that she was given by her mother, were taken by yours and then made illegal for her to wear).
Then one day, you’re on your way home from some variation of a gentle core strengthening class on a Saturday morning. You’re wearing your killer kicks, and favourite comfy item to complement your best leisure wear, when you bump into the original owner of said tracktop or pants.
There’s that moment – the pause, the realisation… of the fact that you’re wearing the stolen item. This scenario could go many ways:
“Sindiww, before I even greet you, I’m sorry. These are your pants, I mean I feel like they’re my pants now, because I’ve worn all the good out of them and they have my pheromones all over them, but let’s do this. May I replace them or compensate you for not only the value of the pants but for the distress of not being able to wear them?”
To which Sindiwe could respond with either:
“Oh I was wondering what happened to those, don’t worry Hunty they’re yours now.”
“Um, yes, those are mine, take them off immediately they were limited edition, in fact I want these back and that millennial pink cashmere I lent you in 2013 along with all my mom's clothes and all the clothes you bought between 1894 [Cecil Rhodes’ Glen Grey Act of 1894 which criminalised black land ownership] and 2018.”
“Yes, you can pay me back for those pants. You’ve ruined them for me now – tangibly and emotionally. In fact, you’ve ruined the whole trend for me. Now I have to denounce athleisure as a whole, because the thought of this blatant disrespect will trigger me beyond the point of me ever being able to take part in any kind of cardio vascular, or even self-resistance training. I’m taking up Karate, and will wear Kevlar in solidarity with the indigenous people of what is now known as Okinawa, where karate originated before it was a subsidiary of the Chinese Imperial tributary system under the Ming Empire, then only about 400 years later became a Japanese colony. Which is why people think that karate is Japanese but it’s not, it’s an ancient indigenous sport that has been appropriated by various Asian super powers and is now a taught in fluorescent-lit scout halls from Benoni to Pennsylvania. So, no – keep my damn tracksuit pants. You and your cousins can have them. They are dead to me.”
You hope that Sindiwe didn’t notice, and you find a way to do something nice for her to alleviate your guilt.
You don’t even realise you are wearing the pants but Sindiwe does. This could also go three ways:
Sindiwe could choose to let it go – she doesn’t let things like that get to her, she’s better than that.
Sindiwe will call you on your ways – and remind you that you are in fact wearing her pants. You both laugh, you apologise, and refer back to the top of this article for your own options.
Sindiwe keeps quiet, and resents you, tells all her friends what a selfish and entitled thief you are. You’re none the wiser, everyone starts hating you, and you keep living your best life wearing someone else’s pants.
When I ran this metaphor past a friend of mine that is a research assistant in the sociology department at Wits, she mentioned that in 2015, EFF leader Julius Malema had used a similar metaphor:
“If somebody steals your car and goes to Gugulethu and decides to add mag wheels, includes new leather seats and nice music, and you say: ‘Policeman, here is my stolen car’ and then a policeman says: ‘Yes it is your car, but it has got some improvements, so you will have to pay to cover the costs,’ that cannot be correct.
“That is what they are saying about our land: that there is investment, so you cannot just take without paying. Why should we compensate for stolen land?” asked Julius to loud applause.
So, we should have been having these land conversations in greater detail years ago, but now we’re having to pussy foot around the subject because it’s charged, and there’s a lot of fear and ignorance around it. I’m going to be as bold as to over simplify the subject:
The thing about taking something that’s not yours, is that it’s NOT YOURS. Give it back. Or pay it back. Or learn how to return the favour. The information is there, it’s free and all you have to do is make an effort.
Can we have a conversation with each other about it? Can we take the time to learn and get involved?
In order to engage in the conversation, I’m also going to keep reading books on the subject and keep listening…
Hope you find your truth!
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.