BY VONANI WA KA BILA
DURBAN — More than 3000 landless South Africans — women, farm workers, chiefs and young people — gathered on August 30 at the Roger Rovers Club for the International Landless People's Assembly, called by the newly formed Landless People's Movement (LPM).
Revolutionary songs reverberated as the "wretched of the Earth" toyi-toyed and hoisted flags and banners. They braved the cold weather as they worked to draft a landless people's charter.
The International Landless People's Assembly was timed to coincide with the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR).
"Phambili ngo mzabalazo wa mhlaba! Izwe lethu! (Bring back the land! Enough is enough!)", the people shouted, calling on President Thabo Mbeki and minister of land affairs Thoko Didiza to implement land reform. Around 85% of South Africa's land is still in the hands of the whites.
"Nako ya maburu i fedile, si zo thatha umhlaba wethu (The time of Boers has gone, we shall take back our land)", the agitated comrades continued shouting in the presence of Didiza.
Didiza was forced to commit herself to hosting a national land rights summit before the end of October to review land reform in South Africa. The summit will give priority to the demands of LPM.
The national chairperson of LPM and co-founder of the Northern Province Land Rights Coalition Ntate Mojapelo pointed out that South Africa is in its seventh year of democracy, but the people who voted for the African National Congress-led government still do not have land. He blamed the government's dismally slow pace of land reform on its neo-liberal policies that force the landless to pay for land.
"The government is not moving. We do not want to invade the land, but our government is forcing us to do so. Land reform must not be an endless song for the decade. [We need] our ancestral land to produce food and make a living", Mojapelo cried out to a roar of applause.
In his address, Abie Dithlake, director of the South African National Non-Governmental Organisation catalogued the poverty that millions of South Africans, especially farm workers and rural people, still face today. He pointed out that the best strategy to eradicate poverty was to give the people land.
"Land is the tool that people need to defend themselves because racism is an economic construct."
Dithlake called on the ANC government to get its priorities right, to be accountable to the people and to apply appropriate policies that improve people's lives.
"Africa must rise and declare war against the forces of doom, the IMF and World Bank that force their policies on us", he declared.
Dithlake cautioned that continued development of manifestos and charters, while important, is not enough. "We need to find some constructive ways of addressing our problems."
Messages that called on the South African government to give people land came from Pan Africanist Congress and landless people's organisations across the world, including from Dalit people of India, the Aborigines of Australia, Palestine, the First Nations of North America, as well as representatives of landless movements from Latin America and a Zimbabwean organisation of landless women.
All participants in the assembly seemed to agree that the WCAR could never conquer racism without addressing the colonial and apartheid legacy of land dispossession.