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South Africa's land dilemma

The country is locked in a controversial debate about land redistribution to try and right historical injustices. CNN's David McKenzie reports.

Posted: Nov 21, 2018 12:17 AM
Updated: Nov 21, 2018 12:31 AM

To understand what questions of land seizures and farm murders are all about, rural KwaZulu Natal is a good place to start.

Roland Henderson walks on the creaky floorboards of his stone farmhouse and points to a series of five sepia photographs hanging on the cream wall.

"These are my ancestors on the wall. So, if I loaf about during the day, they are watching me," he says with a chuckle.

Henderson's family has farmed in Besters, a cattle district of rolling grassland hills and acacia trees, for five generations.

"History is complicated in South Africa," I remark to him. "Our forebears took land from people. If not always directly, it was certainly helped by the legislation of the previous government. What do you think of that part of your legacy?"

"We can't ignore that. I don't think commercial farmers should atone for all the sins of apartheid that were committed," he says.

In Besters, the farmers are grappling hands-on with one of South Africa's most challenging historical problems.

When Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress came to power in South Africa in 1994, one of the key dilemmas they faced was the so-called land question.

The policy of pushing non-white South Africans off the land to the benefit of whites officially began with the 1913 Native Lands Act, though in reality the practice stretches back centuries.

The act limited black ownership to just 7% of the land. The vast majority of viable land was allotted to whites.

President Cyril Ramaphosa recently described the Lands Act as South Africa's "original sin."

"In my own family it happened twice, where land was taken, we were moved from where my parents had grown up owning land, working the land, they were moved and dropped into an arid place with no compensation whatsoever," said Ramaphosa in an exclusive interview with CNN.

"As it is now, the poverty that we have in South Africa, in part, has been given rise to by people not having assets."

This racist geography was accelerated during the apartheid years, when legislation codified the nationalist party's aims to keep races physically separated. Blacks and mixed-race South Africans were removed from cities and pushed into townships or homelands -- land allotted to non-whites, according to their ethnic identity.

They had to have a passbook, a kind of internal passport, to travel to designated white areas.

In Ladysmith, the nearest town to Besters, the "black spots" in town were erased in the 1970s, the non-white families forced out to a township called Ezakheni, some 15 miles away.

With the advent of democracy, land redistribution was, in theory, a top priority. But the South African government's efforts have been beset by problems.

The farmers in Besters didn't wait for them to rectify the past.

More than a decade ago, the commercial farmers in Besters held hundreds of meetings with the local community. As a result, with the help of government money, they have redistributed almost half of their district's land.

"It's complicated and there are many layers of history and many layers of conflict, but if you put everybody around a table and you talk to each other openly and honestly, you can find each other," says Henderson.

Emerging farmers like Ndizane Khosa have used their new land to raise cattle, chickens and sheep, and access to capital has allowed them to pull their families out of poverty.

"When we were growing up we had no idea how this farming worked, but our grandkids have the opportunity to learn properly now. I can pass that knowledge to them," Khosa says.

"In our district I have seven neighbors and they are all different colors, but we live happily together and there's place in the sun for us all," says Henderson.

The success of land redistribution in Besters is the anomaly, not the norm.

Exhaustive studies show that the ANC-led government has failed to execute its policy of land restitution and redistribution because of corruption, mismanagement and a lack of will. The vast majority of private land -- farmland included -- is owned by whites.

"A lot is at stake," said Ramaphosa. "You could even say that the stability of the country is at stake. And I am not fond of failing at anything. And this issue we will not fail on."

The ANC, pushed by an insurgent opposition party on the left, has resolved to amend the constitution to explicitly allow land redistribution without compensation. It is a highly contentious move that is working through a parliamentary process.

While Henderson, Khosa and the other farmers of Besters managed to broker a negotiated future for the land in their rural slice of South Africa, they are facing new pressures to take sides in the land debate.

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They say the extremes could scupper the experiment of a democratic South Africa.

"We are getting drowned out by the rhetoric and by the noise of the politicians and the noise of others," says Henderson on the balcony of his farmhouse. "It is difficult to galvanize the middle, because we tend to be more silent than the extremes. The middle needs to have their voice heard."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
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Lamar10470135
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Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
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Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
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George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
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Clay306375
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Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
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Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
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Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
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Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
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Choctaw86927
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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