After-Effects of Apartheid

May 11, 1991

It is one thing for South Africa to scrap the evil laws ofapartheid, as the government of President F. W. de Klerk is committed to do. But undoing the evil effects of those laws would open a can of worms, and so far the government is not even trying. Could a future government dependent upon the black majority fail to try? But what about the people who subsequently bought the land in good faith, and the improvements they made?

The difficulties into which South Africa must plunge, after its government and nonwhite opposition have agreed on new political arrangements, were made vivid by Sun reporter Jerelyn Eddings' reporting-in-depth on just two land disputes that are arising from the ashes of apartheid.

In one, 4,000 people called Fingos were driven by the government off of 15,000 acres near Humansdorp in 1977, and forcibly relocated in poverty in the Xhosa "homeland" of Ciskei. The Fingos have nothing economically to do there, and are not a Xhosa people. The government then sold their land in 1982 to 19 white farmers to whom it lent the capital to develop modern, highly productive farms. Aside from everything else, if so many people were moved back, the farmland would not produce such yields. But that land was stolen from them, it is home and the Fingos want it back.

In Ms. Eddings' other case, people called Mogopa bought some 13,000 acres near Ventersdorp, fair and square by white man's rules, in 1913. In 1984, some 6,000 descendants of the purchasers were forced by state security from that land, which had been zoned for white people. They were relocated in squalor in the "homeland" of Bophuthatswana. Some 300 families have returned as squatters in tin shacks near the ruins of their former stone houses. "The government has really made us poor," Daniel Moloatsi told Ms. Eddings. "We used to have cattle. We used to farm. Now we want to farm, but we don't even have farm implements."

The Land Acts under which this crime was committed are to be repealed by June. So far there is no plan to make restitution to some 3.5 million people who were dislodged and impoverished by those laws. More than a dozen rural black communities are fighting legally to reclaim their lost land. Sorting out claim and counter-claim and engaging in redistribution without diluting the economic base will occupy South Africa for a generation. That process can't even begin until the country has reached a consensus on a political framework within which to undertake reform.

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