Worries as racially motivated land policy approved in Durban

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Heritage Day on 24 September recognised and celebrated the cultural wealth of our nation. It is the only recognised day promoting diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace and economic development.

As Newcastillians embraced this concept, government officials approved a controversial piece of legislation. 

This follows News24 reporting on eThekwini (Durban) Municipality’s proposal only to sell land to black people.

Such a proposal shocking a country in need of healing, not racial policy favouritism.  

Moreover, the decision was met with opposition during the municipality’s executive committee (EXCO) meeting on 21 September 2021. Yet, the government entity’s councillors approved eThekwini’s Proactive Land Release Strategy. This strategy aims to fast-track the sale of “surplus land” that the city no longer needs.

Currently, there are 350 municipal-owned properties spread around eThekwini that are earmarked for land release. Of these properties, 12 have apparently been designated high-value status, valued at more than R10 million per property.

The council report states that previously, the municipality would initially wait for someone to show interest in the said property. However, the city would incur costs in rates, taxes, security, and upkeep.

The Proactive Land Release Strategy will eliminate this scenario and bring about a dispensation where land is kept productive and best used. And unrequired land is alienated for revenue generation.

However, in democratic South Africa with 11 official languages, there is one catch to this. The report states that only companies owned by black people qualified to bid for the land. 

A provision which Durban Municipality Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda defended.

According to News24, he said the aim was to address racial imbalances of the past caused by Apartheid. Further stating that as custodians of economic transformation, it could not be said that people are equal. 

This is still the same song sung by the ruling party after almost 30 years, justifying such decisions. Forgetting that Durban is the largest Indian population globally, second only to India? Let alone the many other races who call the coastal city home. 

Furthermore, the Durban Mayor explained that part of the reason why people cannot live together in harmony is because there are high levels of inequality. 

However, this coming out of the same municipality dealing with mass corruption. To read about the corruption charges click here or click here for more

He also said the city had sought a legal opinion on the policy’s constitutionality, going on to challenge anyone to approach the courts if they felt it discriminatory.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) EXCO member Mdu Nkosi said he supported the strategy but asked that the “black only” provision be removed. He emphasised that the reasoning for this was that the municipality should be able to assist all the city’s people. Therefore all barriers needed to be removed.

During the EXCO meeting, Democratic Alliance (DA) eThekwini caucus leader Nicole Graham argued that many poor black people would not benefit from this policy as the land would be sold at market value. 

She stated that making a system available to people who don’t have the means to participate doesn’t give them economic opportunity. However, the biggest issue she highlighted was racially excluding rate-paying residents who were not black. 

She described this as both “divisive” and “problematic”.

Despite both the IFP and DA voicing their concerns. The ANC majority did not budge, and the motion was passed with only the DA voting against it.

Following the meeting, Cllr Graham said there were significant concerns about the Proactive Release Strategy. “As the DA we support the idea of releasing land that is not being used by the municipality. It makes sense that it can be used for more productive means, and it also makes economic sense that the municipality can make an income off land it is not using.”

However, she says the DA’s concern is that the land will only be released to black people. 

Cllr Graham stresses that while the DA is fully aware that we are still dealing with an unequal economy, will this development truly resolve the issue?

“The point we made quite clearly in EXCO, is that eThekwini at the moment is an incredibly racially divided city, and it is also a city in which the economy is not doing well. There are many people left out of the economy,” she highlighted.

According to Cllr Graham, “This does not give anyone access, who wouldn’t already have access. You would already need the money to buy the land, and doesn’t give you as a black South African the opportunity to buy land that you wouldn’t be able to buy in an ordinary economic market anyway.” Therefore, she stresses that it is a false solution. 

Cllr Graham explains that the ANC is claiming it is providing people with a better chance to compete economically. “It does not do that. All it does is create the false idea, that there is some kind of redistribution being attained when there really isn’t.”

Cllr Graham emphasised that it has been shown since 1994, the most significant single biggest barrier to redistribution has been a lack of political will, corruption and a lack of funding dedicated to the issue.

The DA caucus leader declared, “I feel this decision because it does not actually achieve anything and excludes people on the basis of their skin colour is divisive. I feel that any person and a rate-payer of this city should be able to participate in programmes of the municipality.”

She noted it is also important to remember that this strategy was meant to release land for the municipality’s benefit and for people who can do something with the ground. It was never meant to be an empowerment initiative. But rather one where people who could make a success of the land should be allowed to have the opportunity to do so.

Sending a message to the community, Cllr Graham says, “The ANC is in an all-out race to really make itself seem as though it is taking action on things.”

But she stresses it is plain to see it has not taken action, as seen in eThekwini’s dismal economy, which she says is busy flatlining. And has been doing so since 2018.

Additionally, she states that the ruling party should alternatively focus on development and ensure eThekwini becomes a functional city. One with stable economic policies and infrastructure instead of petty, racially divisive policies.

The councillor notes the DA’s concerns about the policy. History has shown us that once racially motivated policies such as these are approved in one city, it is only a matter of time before more are approved in other cities and towns. 

An example would be Apartheid. 

Considering this, ActionSA’s Mayoral Elect for Newcastle, Faizel Cassim, stresses that his party is totally against the policy. “Decisions such as this divides people. We as ActionSA, do not promote this kind of division. We are all South African and should be treated equally and no preference should be given to people on the basis of their race.”

As innocent as the Proactive Land Release Strategy might seem now, it is crucial to remember how long it will take before another version of the 1913 Natives Land Act is introduced.

For those unfamiliar with the Act, the dispossession of land through the 1913 Natives Land Act was Apartheid’s original sin.

Download the 1913 Natives Land Act – CLICK HERE

As the South African Government explains in a statement, the “land question” goes back more than a century to the 1913 Natives Land Act. This Act provided legislative form to a process of dispossession that had been underway since colonial times.

The Act also restricted black people from buying or occupying land. Does this sound somewhat familiar?

Click here to learn more about land reform, according to the government.

A question to roll around in your mind. How would the country have responded if the eThekwini municipality had decided to only sell exclusively to any other race? Laying testament to the misunderstood term of inequality in South Africa. 

The only question to ask the Durban Councilors and mayor is how you do now believe that any other race can look to you for unbiased leadership now? 

With this profoundly troubling decision animating, millions of South Africans, investors and countries with stakes in SA are now keeping a close eye. 

What are your thoughts on the matter? Share your views in the comment section below.

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