Zuma warns against ‘denial’ over S.African land
President Jacob Zuma on Thursday warned against provoking emotions over South Africa's skewed land ownership, after a white deputy minister said blacks had no claim to nearly half of the country.
Zuma tersely slammed deputy agriculture minister Pieter Mulder’s assertion that blacks, barred from white areas under apartheid, had no right to 40 percent of land as they historically had not lived in South Africa’s western regions.
“Honourable Mulder stunned all of us and the whole country yesterday with his bold denial of historical facts about land dispossession,” said Zuma.
“The land question is one of the most emotive issues in our history and present, and must be handled with utmost care, and not in the careless and callous manner that Honourable Mulder handled it.”
As in other African countries, land is a sensitive issue in South Africa where state reforms have failed to shift the bulk of land from the white minority 18 years after the end of apartheid.
Mulder caused a stir in parliament on Wednesday when he argued that blacks migrating from the equator had met white settlers moving from the western Cape in more central region towards the east.
“There is sufficient proof that there were no Bantu-speaking people in the Western Cape and northwestern Cape,” he said.
But Zuma warned Mulder, who leads a minority opposition party largely for Afrikaners, to “tread very carefully”.
“We felt it was not going to help the country for us to be emotional about the land question,” he said, citing the government’s land reforms which he said were aligned to the constitution, national reconciliation and nation building.
“We therefore urge Honourable Mulder to tread very carefully on this matter. It is extremely sensitive and to the majority of people in this country, it is a matter of life and death.
“And that is why we have been very careful on this matter and I don’t think we should provoke emotions in this country, we shouldn’t, it’s wrong, it’s not good leadership — no matter what your constituency may think.”
South Africa has refuted land grabs or nationalisation, as in neighbouring Zimbabwe, despite calls from its radical youth league but is overhauling reforms which have largely failed to dent the imbalances under white minority rule.
A draft policy proposes the leasing of state and public land, limits on private land, conditions and obligations for foreign owners, and communal tenure on land under traditional chiefs.
The state has reaffirmed its commitment to an open market system, where only willing private owners will sell to the state, but plans to act on pricing which it says is distorted in favour of sellers.