J. Michael Waller, Insight on the News, Feb. 25
Africa’s next famine may be over the horizon. Like the horrific famines of Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, the famine will be man-made. The most productive agricultural lands on the continent risk being laid waste, thanks to a new land grab by the South African government. The first targets: white owners of farms and their traditionally Christian black workers.
With neighboring Zimbabwe reeling from man-made famine brought on by “President for Life” Robert Mugabe’s racially motivated land seizures, South Africa may be headed for a repeat performance, warns prominent South African farmer Philip Du Toit warns.
The new land grab is seen as a combination of continued commitment to class warfare by President Thabo Mbeki’s government, and a combination of ethnic and religious persecution of conservative Christians, both black and white, whose livelihoods depend on private commercial farms. Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999, is a longtime leader of the South African Communist Party.
Du Toit, a farmer and Pretoria-based lawyer, is in Washington to raise the alarm about a new government decree that allows the state to confiscate land from white farmers at will.
Author of a new book, The Great South African Land Scandal, Du Toit warns that the land seizures, ostensibly intended to correct racial injustice, will destroy the country’s commercial agriculture as it has in Zimbabwe if allowed to continue. “They say that they take it to give it ‘back’ to the people, but usually it remains in government hands as common property,” says Du Toit, who is trying to represent victimized farmers in court. The central government also is subverting South African blacks’ traditional chieftain system, he says, by usurping the decisionmaking authority of the local chiefs.
The new government policy, Du Toit tells Insight, will have a catastrophic effect on thousands of black families who work the farms. “They have no place else to go if the property is seized.” The government now is seizing only white-owned farms, but Du Toit says many black farmers are concerned that if the process continues the traditional tribal lands will be next. “At the moment they will not touch the tribal areas,” according to Du Toit, “they will touch only the white farms.”
Chief land-claims commissioner Tozi Gwanya denounced Du Toit, who is white, calling his new book “a piece of racist literature.” Gwanya alleged that the book would provoke violence. “In fact if this book gets out into the general populace I can see racial outbreaks developing between blacks and whites,” Gwanya said, according to the South African Press Agency.
Du Toit tells Insight the present devastating famine in Zimbabwe is a direct result of Mugabe’s confiscations of productive, white-owned farms that began in 1991.
The 1994 restitution of the Land Rights Act allowed expropriation from white farmers in South Africa, but provided legal recourse to the independent courts for those targeted for seizure. A new decree, announced early in February, eliminates any legal recourse once government officials decide to seize a farm. That is, the land is taken by fiat without appeal to the courts.
“The constitution guaranteed due process,” Du Toit says. “Now the people cannot appeal.”
Critics are likening South Africa’s new farm-confiscation policy to the land-reform policies in El Salvador in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which sought to correct injustices by confiscating larger farms, breaking them up, and reorganizing the workers in collectives or state-run cooperatives. Many workers received small parcels of land as their own. However, the reforms succeeded only in destroying El Salvador’s once-productive agricultural system and destroyed its export crops of rice, beans and cotton.
A quarter-century later, despite 15 years of peace and billions in international aid, tiny El Salvador is still a net importer of all three crops, and nearly one-third of its population has fled to the United States for work. This time the target is South Africa.