Lekota: It's a myth that whites were given land for free
An emotional COPE leader gives Times Select his take on the land expropriation debate
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota broke down in tears while reflecting on the direction South Africa had taken under the leadership of a political party he had served from the days of his youth.
He was speaking to Times Select at Cope’s office in Midrand on Wednesday – the day he made headlines for saying that South Africa needed refugee camps. But the interview with him had nothing to do with foreign nationals. Instead, it was about the ongoing debate over land ownership in South Africa.
Lekota questioned President Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament this year, asking him what he meant when he said he would give land to “our people”.It was that phrase that brought us to his office. As we arrived, COPE’s media person Glacier Nkhwashu warned there would be other people in the room during the interview but they would not interfere.
“He just wants them to learn how to handle questions,” Nkhwashu politely explained.
We asked him about his name Terror, which comes from the days when he was a soccer star. He replied with a lengthy lecture on football techniques and the great players he rubbed shoulders with.Finally, we got to the issue of land. Lekota was uneasy speaking about it, initially. He spoke about how South Africa became the Union of South Africa in 1910, leaving black people thinking they would enjoy equal rights like other races because the colonisers, the British, had granted the nation independence. Then the ANC was formed in 1912, uniting black people into one vision – defeating apartheid and getting a free South Africa.
In the beginning the ANC did not start with a military wing, he said. That came later to increase pressure on the apartheid government to negotiate a settlement that would benefit everyone.“We wanted peace but we could not accept to be less human than other citizens. We had no other home in the world,” he said. He said the ANC committed itself to laying down arms on the day the apartheid government indicated that it wanted to negotiate.
It was a promise that was kept when the liberation movements were unbanned in 1990.
“Kwakufiwa macerates (things were bad). Here in Pretoria,” he said, taking a gasp, then adding, “many of our people were hung there.”
After saying these words, Lekota broke down in tears. He appeared to be inconsolable.
“The thing I find so sad is that we faced death. We lost some of the best human beings and we have all these little kids,” he said, without completing his sentence.“Codesa was not a sell-out. It was a commitment made that when the right moment comes, we would negotiate. We went to do that. We promised our people through the mouth of Mandela, Tambo and the late Chief Albert Luthuli that we want peace in our country … When they (the apartheid government) agreed we couldn’t say: ‘No, no, we want to kill you’. We said we made this promise and we are going to negotiate,” he said.Lekota read the preamble of the Constitution and argued that there was nothing in it that allowed one race to benefit at the expense of another. This, he said, would be “correcting injustice with another injustice”.
He then went on to name some of his comrades who were sentenced to death, and again became emotional.Lekota said he believes the proposal floated in parliament for the expropriation of land without compensation is misplaced. He argued that most, if not all white people who own properties in the country, paid for them. Taking the land from them and not paying for it would be against the ethos of the Constitution.
He said the ANC does not want to admit to its failure in implementing the Constitution and is simply now “fooling the people”.“I want to kill this myth that there are white families that were given land for free. That is not true. It was not given [to whites] for free. Never! Remember this is a capitalist society. You may have had some deals like the fraud we are experiencing in our time where government officials can be corrupt. You may have had something like that. But as a general rule‚ everybody had to buy the property that they have.
“I’m saying to you ... go to any white family that you like. Show me a family that will not be able to show you a title deed for the land they bought. Go to the deeds office; check there‚ whether there is any property that was given free to anybody ... This is another thing you can help the public with. Check and see if you can find that Van Rooyen‚ Van Meulen who ... was given land free‚” Lekota said.
He added that if government needs land for development‚ there is already provision in the Constitution for expropriation‚ providing the state compensates owners.Expanding on his position‚ Lekota said it is true that the apartheid government took land from Africans‚ but not that it was freely handed out to white people.
“People think that what happened to this land is that it went to the government and the government gave it freely to the whites‚ which is not true. It got registered in the deeds office ... They recorded that this property which once belonged to so and so has now been taken by government. Later‚ the apartheid government made these properties available for the whites to buy. They bought it — but not all of it. They could not buy all of it. White people are just about 10% of the population. The majority of the land I am talking about is still in the hands of government.”
Going forward‚ Lekota said the fight against apartheid was meant to develop an equal society in which citizens enjoy equal rights and privileges.
“What we are saying is that the Republic of South Africa is one democratic‚ sovereign state. South Africa was supposed to be a number of states ... but ... it is one sovereign democratic state. No more divisions.”