Fearmongering and threats of conflict hinder a sober dialogue

A squatter leaves after forced removals. The writer says the argument that debating the land question will divide society denies the reality that South Africa remains a deeply divided nation. /Halden Krog
A squatter leaves after forced removals. The writer says the argument that debating the land question will divide society denies the reality that South Africa remains a deeply divided nation. /Halden Krog

Parliament's adoption of the motion on land expropriation without compensation has elicited hysteria among white people.

This hysteria has found expression in assertions that the debate on land will only serve to divide the country.

A lot has been made of Julius Malema's articulations in and outside of parliament as a justification of the tendency towards the "swart gevaar" fearmongering that always rears its head when there is talk of redress for the injustices of the past.

The argument that debating the land question will divide society denies the reality that South Africa remains a deeply divided nation. Colonialism and apartheid did not only entrench philosophical and ideological divisions between the people of this country.

The lasting legacy of the segregationist policies of successive minority governments over three centuries is the crystalisation of those divisions in the spatial arrangements that make it impossible to overlook, disregard, forget and even reconcile the injustices of the past.

It is not just a history of dispossession that the country is now grappling with. It is the continuing presence, the perpetuation and reinforcement of that dispossession in a democratic South Africa.

South Africa is what it is owing to legalisation of the oppression of the majority.

The debate should not be stymied by the fearmongering of a white minority whose aim is to ensure as little inconvenience and challenge to the privileges it has accrued through injustices.

Many white people have learnt that denying the effects of apartheid is not an option. So, they have resorted to appeasement of acknowledging apartheid as an evil that needs to be repented of, not as an injustice that needs redressed.

The outcry on land is synonymous to the outcry on affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment. Except that while these policies merely tinkered with the present and future prospects of minorities, the land question digs at the core of white domination and privilege.

This debate requires white people to face the facts of how their privileged position is not on account of a genetic superiority to black people, but an endowment of exploitation and oppression bequeathed on them by their forebears.

The debate on land also tramples on another form of privilege, that of chiefs and kings who wield control over communal lands. This is aptly demonstrated in recent remarks by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. He has resorted to calling out the warrior spirit of the Zulu people, telling all Zulus to prepare to fight for the king's right to control the land.

Just like the white minority, traditional leaders have an interest in retaining the status quo as it confers on these institutions powers and discretion that give them pre-eminence over citizens of the country, economically and socially.

Outside of the desire to preserve privilege, the land debate also has the potential of eliciting unbridled arrogance on the part of the proponents of land reform.

This is apparent in the political antics of the EFF.

Having managed to twist the ANC's hand in parliament, the EFF is trying to opportunistically gain political mileage by threatening the DA with which it has been working in the metros.

Using emotive language, Malema is feeding the propensity of white people to retreat into their lager mentality while stoking the impatience of the majority.

The fearmongering of white people, the threats of conflict by the traditional leadership and the arrogance of the EFF are potential barriers to a sober debate on land.

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