Do South Africans Truly Enjoy Freedom?

South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 are hailed by the entire world as the Rubicon moment for the country. The elections represented a moment where South Africans – black and white – chose to endorse the negotiated route to democracy when most African countries chose the war path.

africans-southThe Constitution that emerged as a result of the negotiations is proclaimed as the best human rights centered constitution in the world. The Constitution supports co-existence, racial equality, equal opportunity and democracy. This article will highlight how the Constitution has been used to ensure that black South Africans remain in the economic periphery and their fundamental call for land redistribution remains a pipe dream.

In his seminal work, Dilemmas of African Intellectuals in South Africa: Political and Cultural Constraints, Professor Themba Sono (1994) argues that the oratory nature of African literature presents fundamental challenges in an epoch of documented literature.

For this reason African literature is captured in stories, songs and slogans. A common tread in African songs particularly after the arrival of colonialists in Africa is the land question. Liberation movements, particularly the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), posses vast sums of resources that highlight the importance of land being transferred back to black South Africans.

In 1994, white South Africans who accounted for less that ten percent of the population owned over eighty percent of the land. During this same period, black South Africans who accounted for over eighty percent of the population owned less than twelve percent of the land. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa has institutionalized the skewed ownership patterns through the sunset clauses. A flawed principle of “willing buyer, willing seller” was entrenched by the sunset clauses. This principle effectively provided white South Africans constitutional grounds to perpetuate Apartheid ownership patterns.

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Nineteen years into democracy the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle has been able to redistribute only 7.5 percent of the land. At this rate South Africa may require another 150 years to reach a point of parity in land ownership. The patience of black South Africans cannot be tested any further and this is reflected in the ruling party’s previous conference resolutions. The ANC has effectively opted for a more drastic approach to land redistribution. This new approach is said to go beyond negotiating with white South Africans on the basis of “willing buyer, willing seller.”

Whether the new approach works or not, black South African struggles for land should not only be realized through song and slogan. These struggles have to be realized. Land issues have always posed fundamental questions, many ask; do South Africans truly enjoy freedom or is it all a farce?

The current reality is that black South Africans will only get close to their land as they work it for their masters.

Olwethu Sipuka holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of Cape Town. He specializes in advocacy, stakeholder relations and policy. Read more articles by Olwethu.