The fight over who should own South Africa’s land is dividing the country.
It pits white South Africans, who still control much of the economy after the end of apartheid, against their black neighbours, many of whom remain disenfranchised.
A small-scale example of this nationwide fight took place in Stellenbosch on Stefan Smit’s farm, which has attracted international attention.
The New York Times decided to report on the matter:
One cold morning, Stefan Smit, a white farmer in South Africa’s stunning wine region, woke up to find his vineyard under siege.
Anxious and angry, Mr. Smit, 62, drove his pickup truck to the highest point on his estate and peered down. Impoverished residents from the black township next door had stormed the land, clearing weeds and erecting 40 shacks in a matter of hours.
A recent survey conducted by the government found that white farmers like Smit control up to 70% of individually owned farms in South Africa.
Before delving further into Smits story and the politics at play here, these aerial shots show Smit’s farm:
These show images of the farm before (left) and after (right) the informal settlement, giving you an idea of how much land has been taken over:
As you can see, the rectangular section towards the bottom of the first aerial view of the farm has been almost entirely redeveloped into an informal residential area.
Smit (below) and other farmers consider Stellenbosch to be their historical domain.
He and his white Afrikaner friends call it an invasion, part of a calculated effort by the governing African National Congress to capture the only province that remains out of its political control.
“People are being brought” from other parts of the country “just to create a voting bloc,” said Jan de Klerk, a friend of Mr. Smit’s and a son of F.W. de Klerk, the former president who negotiated the end of apartheid with Nelson Mandela.
“It’s not skills coming into the town. It’s basically just people coming in, and there’s no room.”
Note that this type of conspiracy theory around bussing voters in is unconfirmed. The people living in the informal settlement of Smit’s farm say that they moved there out of desperation:
Life had barely changed for the men and women in the neighboring township, even a quarter-century after achieving democracy. They still lived in flimsy shacks in cramped quarters, while Mr. Smit and his friends hold vast tracts of land brutally snatched from African inhabitants generations ago and deliberately kept in white hands for decades to come.
The monopolies go far beyond private estates. Nearly 80 of the farms in Stellenbosch sit on public land. And most of them are locked in 50-year leases that local authorities signed with white farmers in the early 1990s, right before the end of apartheid, in exchange for private investments in water infrastructure, according to confidential municipal audits obtained by The New York Times.
The arrangements have enabled the farmers to maintain control of large stretches of public land long after the arrival of democracy.
With general elections on the horizon, the land struggle is also playing out on a national level.
Many black South Africans feel betrayed by the failure of the A.N.C., riddled with corruption, to provide access to land for the black majority.
The A.N.C. has tried — halfheartedly, critics say — to redistribute some of it, but the party has failed repeatedly, angering black residents all the more. One A.N.C. program purchased land from willing white farmers, but was so tainted by corruption that politicians ended up with more land than the ordinary citizens who were supposed to benefit.
In recent years, an A.N.C. spinoff, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has tapped into this anger by calling on black South Africans to take land on their own.
Unfortunately, this has increased the EFF voter base. It also means that the ANC no longer holds the position of strength it has maintained since 1994.
But let’s return to Smit’s farm. What’s important to note is that the rumours about land seizures and white panic over “genocide” and other myths are also proving false in this instance.
…The law has sided with Mr. Smit. A judge ordered the squatters to vacate the farm, but most of the shacks have remained while the decision is being appealed. Now, the municipality is negotiating with Mr. Smit to buy the plot.
Provided negotiation and legal action continue to work within the realms of the constitution, the next few years could bring about some necessary change in South Africa towards a more equitable society.
You can read the full New York Times article here.
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