WSF (1996): “Don’t Wait For The Government! The Poor Must Take Back The Land”

WSF (1996): “Don’t Wait For The Government! The Poor Must Take Back The Land”

From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 2, number 2, third quarter 1996. Complete PDF is here

The land question will be the site of massive struggle in the future. Since 1652, the colonial and apartheid governments have dispossessed the indigenous people of the land in favour of rich White farmers.

Today 60 000 mainly white farmers own about 87% of all land. But 68% of the rural population (mainly African and Coloured working- class people) live in extreme poverty. Labour control is extremely violent and unions rare. Unemployment is very high, as machines are used to replace workers.

In the bantustans, the chiefs control access to land and use this power to extract labour and taxes from working and poor people. They use their connections with the government to enrich themselves and enforce their rule. Women are denied access to land on the grounds of so-called tradition.

Whatever the role of the chiefs may have been in pre- colonial times, it is clear that they spent the twentieth century as allies of the racist capitalist state. The actions of these so- called “Bantu Authorities” are well known in the reserves.

Heavy use of chemicals on the “White” farms, and land shortages in the reserves, have led to massive environmental degradation. This worsens the conditions of the workers and the poor.

The ANC- led government’s land reform policy is totally inadequate for the task at hand.

The land reform policy has three main elements. The first is the establishment of the land claims court to allow people dispossessed of their land by racist laws or “corrupt policies” AFTER 1913 to try claim back their land.

The problem with this plan is that about 90% of the land had already been stolen by this point. Also, many people dispossessed by 1913 are scattered across the country and lack documents to prove their claims.

And the government has promised to buy- out the farmers who lose out in the Land Claims Court. Workers’ Solidarity says: the farmers do not deserve one cent payment- they stole the land. In any case, the government , which refuses to increase taxes on the rich, lacks the money to carry out this scheme on a large-scale.

The second element of the land reform program is misleadingly named “land redistribution”. It is based on the so- called “willing-buyer-willing-seller” approach. This means that land must be bought through the market when it is available. The state will provide households with a R15,000 subsidy to help buy land.

R 15 000! What farm costs less than a million rand! What this means is that only the small Black capitalist elite will get land because only they have the money. The working-class masses will not get land. But the racist farmers will get paid handsomely for their ill- gotten gains.

In any case, given limited government funds, it is certain that the only Black people who will get the R 15,000 subsidy will be the elite. This is because the elite is always thought to be better at farming.

The third, and last, aspect of the land reform program is “tenure reform”. Basically, what this means is that labour tenants and traditional communities will have more secure rights to stay on the land.

More protection for tenants against the constant threat of evictions is a good thing. But this kind of reform does nothing to deal with basic problems of land redistribution, poverty and women’s oppression.

Clearly, the land reform program of the ANC- led government will do little to redistribute land or change rural life. While white capitalist farmers, chiefs and the emerging Black capitalists elite all stand to benefit. The workers and the poor do not.

We should not be suprised. While it was a massive advance to replace the racist dictatorship with a parliament, the state is always a tool of the ruling class: the capitalists, generals, top politicians and bureaucrats. It will never act in the fundamental interests of the poor.

Therefore we need to rely on our own strength, our own fighting spirit, to win. We must come together in our millions and force the bosses and the rulers to return the land directly to the workers and the poor- without compensation!

An immediate step must be to develop and strengthen the tiny farmworkers unions. These unions should include all categories of the exploited: waged workers, labour tenants and even the unemployed.

In the short run, the unions should fight for better conditions and wages, and against dismissals, evictions and violence against the poor. This fight should be extended throughout the countryside, on the farms and in the bantustans.

In the long term, these unions can sweep aside the capitalist farmers and the chiefs and seize back the land. In this way, we can establish free agricultural collectives or communes made up of working-class and poor people.

No new boss class, Black or White, would be permitted to emerge. Everyone would do their fair share of work, and everyone would receive what they need to lead a decent life. The collectives would be mainly made up of African and Coloured workers, but obviously Indian and anti-racist White workers could join.

The agricultural collectives would be federated with each other, and with the city workers’ organisations and unions. This will allow us to plan the economy from below in the interests of the masses and to organise the military defence of the revolution. In this way we can establish Stateless Socialism (Anarchism).

Don’t wait for the government! The poor must seize the land!!!!