Expropriation without compensation – and traditional authorities

The Mail and Guardian has a very interesting piece on land rights in traditional areas – and how what amounts to expropriation without compensation has been going on since 1994.

This going to be entirely my take, because it is a response to a column – so it is an opinion on an opinion.

Under the post-1994 laws, licences to mine in former homelands supersede the customary ownership rights that people have inherited over generations to their homes, fields, grazing land and the graves of their ancestors.  The holders of mining licences confiscate the land rights of rural communities.

Remember the whole controversy over the Ingonyama Trust? Well that is an example of what this article is talking about. Because the land is legally owned by the king, not the subjects, Zulus living in the trust lands can find themselves dispossessed of their homes if the king should cut a deal with a mining company.

And it technically doesn’t even count as expropriation, so there is no compensation. The primary victims of this are in the former homelands. In the Eastern Cape we see battles over land rights between mining companies and traditional communities, where just who is the chief has become a matter of deadly seriousness.

This is part of why I’m so opposed to the EFF’s approach to land redistribution – because in real terms traditional authorities are parallel governments in South Africa.

If we were to give the government the same power over all land that the chiefs have over traditional lands, then everybody ends up in that same boat.

The aim to land reform should be to ensure property rights for all, which should mean recognising customary ownership as legal ownership, but what we’re getting instead is a situation where if the bribes are in place, well look at what happens in the ex-“homelands”.


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