A ticking time bomb

Will the slow pace of land reform in South Africa, be the undoing of the ANC government?

Anni interviewing Yoruba Richen (Photo: Sean Jacobs).

The American filmmaker, Yoruba Richen, went to South Africa to see how land reform is going there. One of the original sins of colonial and apartheid South Africa was the massive and indiscriminate dispossession of black people’s land by various white authorities. By the end of Apartheid, whites–who are less than 10% of the population owned nearly 90% of the land.  Since 1994 roughly 5% of all land claims have been processed by the government.  A senior government minister (from the ruling ANC) has described the slow pace of land reform as “a ticking time bomb.”

Richen’s film, “Promised Land,” focuses on the story of land claims by two black communities (the Mekgareng and Molapo) who were removed from their land by white authorities in the first half of the 20th century. Crucially, the film also tells the story of the white farmers who currently own the land. The film also focuses on the beneficiaries of the colonial and apartheid land grab. Most of the whites in the film are tone deaf about the after effects of colonialism and Apartheid, but one farmer, Roger Roman, breaks with tradition. He returned his land. For this Roman is shunned by other whites in his community.  Sean Jacobs (editor), who chaired a recent discussion of the film at The New School, suggests three main take aways from the film: one, whether reconciliation excludes justice (i.e. comprehensive land reform); two, what is the position of whites after Apartheid; and, three, whether the slow pace of land reform will be the undoing of the ANC government (Sean doesn’t think so, unless we’re talking about protests around urban land hunger, not covered in the film). In the end Richen’s film suggests the government lacks the political will to push through comprehensive land reform. (The government favors the creating of a class of black capitalist farmers but does even little about this.)

In this short interview, shot at The New School, I asked Yoruba about what she wanted to achieve with the film. Watch:

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.

And do not hinder them

We hardly think of children as agents of change. At the height of 1980s apartheid repression in South Africa, a group of activists did and gave them the tool of print.

The new antisemitism?

Stripped of its veneer of nuance, Noah Feldman’s essay in ‘Time’ is another attempt to silence opponents of the Israeli state by smearing them as anti-Jewish racists.