BY NORM DIXON
The South African Landless People's Movement (LPM) on August 16 launched a "Landlessness = Racism" campaign to highlight the issue of land hunger during United Nations World Conference Against Racism, and the preceding Non-Government Organisation Forum, to be held in Durban, from August 27 to September 7.
The LPM was formed in July and is made up of landless people's groupings from across the country. It has the support of the National Land Committee, a network of 10 NGOs that support land reform and rural development in all of South Africa's provinces.
"The NLC and the LPM share a common agenda: to ensure that the historical dispossession of land from the majority of South Africans be addressed through meaningful and thorough-going land and agrarian reform", NLC director Zakes Hlatshwayo said.
The Landlessness = Racism campaign has the support of the South African NGO Coalition, the Rural Development Services Network and the Trust for Community Outreach and Education. The campaign is being run in solidarity with other international movements, notably the Palestinian people and the Dalit Solidarity Group from India.
"The purpose of the campaign is to highlight the plight of landlessness and its link to continued racism. This situation also prevails in many other countries where racism and related discrimination also manifests in the continued landlessness of vulnerable communities", explained Hlatshwayo.
"The national and international debates preceding the WCAR have clearly demonstrated that the issue of landlessness — the primary material legacy of the racist eras of colonialism and apartheid — will not feature on the agenda of world leaders as they meet to discuss racism.
"While the threats by the United States to boycott the conference if other countries insist on discussing the central issues of colonialism, reparations for slavery and the equation of Zionism with racism must be condemned by all peoples of the world who are committed to truth and justice, the failure of governments ruling over populations which include millions of landless and land hungry people to put the issue of landlessness on the agenda suggests a vast separation between the rulers and the ruled."
NLC land rights coordinator Andile Mngxitama told a press conference on August 15 that a "conference that claims to address racism without addressing colonialism and slavery will be a farce. A conference that claims to address racism without addressing landlessness will be a 'whitewash' of epic proportions, because the victims of colonial and apartheid land dispossession throughout the world are mainly black people, while the colonial and post-colonial beneficiaries of such dispossession have always been largely white.
"These racist colonial states could not have entrenched their power without the theft of the colonial lands through both conquest and the imposition of 'the rule of law', as these were created to effect and maintain land dispossession. Conversely, the racist legacy of colonialism and apartheid cannot be defeated without redistributing the spoils of colonial and apartheid pillage through land reform."
Mngxitama added that in South Africa, the ruling the African National Congress has failed to keep its promise to return land to the landless. "The [ANC's] Reconstruction and Development Program [in 1994] promised to return 30% of land to the landless in five years. Seven years later, less than 2% of the country's land has been transferred from white to black ownership and the country's grid of private property remains predominantly (at least 85%) in the hands of a tiny white minority.
"It is disingenuous for this government to host international conferences in celebration of its defeat of apartheid when apartheid remains intact for more than 45% of the population who still live in rural areas, suffering desperate poverty and landlessness."
Mngxitama declared that "racism cannot be defeated without radical land redistribution" and that the Landlessness = Racism campaign "demands that world leaders — including South African leaders — adjust their views on the protection of private property rights to make way for real land reform".
"The Landlessness = Racism campaign", he added, "is fundamentally a campaign of action, but it is also a campaign of information aimed at challenging the 'warm, fuzzy' ethos of elite debates about racism and 'colour-blind' racial tolerance. It is about the need for a fundamental reordering of property relations for any effective fight against racism."
Representatives of landless communities from all over South Africa will converge on Durban on August 30 for a "Day of the Landless". Communities and individuals will provide testimonies of the gross racist discrimination they continue to suffer on account of their landlessness. Representatives of international movements will also highlight their struggles.
"They will demonstrate to their South African comrades and the world that the issue of landlessness is unresolved and that superficial attempts to address racism are bound to fail unless the root cause — landlessness caused by colonial and imperial conquest — is addressed", said Hlatshwayo.
On August 31, a march will be held in Durban and a memorandum requesting a resolution of the land issue will be delivered to South African President Thabo Mbeki. "It is hoped that this will remind him — and the world — that seven years into our democracy, landlessness and racism remain a pervasive reality in South Africa", said Hlatshwayo.