In exchange for this sizable concession, blacks were promised land reform, which is outlined in South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution. Millions of blacks who were robbed of ownership or tenancy rights after 1913 could file claims for compensation; those who never owned land could gain land through the redistribution program; and through tenure upgrading, blacks who were allowed to be tenants only under white rule became owners. The ANC’s land reform goal was to redistribute 30% of the land in the first five years of the new democracy.
But if the promises sounded equitable in theory, in practice they have been far from fair. Only one side of the bargain has been upheld: South African whites kept their property, but blacks still have not received theirs. This year marks 20 years of democracy in South Africa, and only 10% of the land has changed hands from whites back to blacks. Political apartheid may have ended, but economic apartheid lives on.
During my swearing in as the Ambassador to the African Union in Capetown,South Africa, I had the opportunity to engage political leaders and intellectuals on the legacy of Mandela, Nearly 95% of the topic always directed me to the back handed deal that has angered south africans whom feel the land redistribution deal has been nothing but a process to keep white land owners in power .
When the post-apartheid state expropriates land for redistributive purposes from current owners (who are mostly white), they receive market-based compensation. But when former owners whose land was grabbed under apartheid file successful claims for that land, most are granted modest symbolic awards called “Standard Settlement Offers.” These offers have ranged from about $2,000 to about $6,000, a mere fraction of the land’s value today.
Equity demands that black and white owners should either both receive symbolic compensation or both receive market-related compensation. Whites should not continue to get higher rates of compensation than blacks
White South Africans benefited immediately from the new policies, with assurances that they had the right to keep their land or receive just compensation. Blacks, on the other hand, had to wait for institutions to be created and claims to be evaluated. And the programs established to benefit them were underfunded, because they had to compete with other urgent funding priorities such as the need for medical facilities, a broken education system and spiraling crime rates.
Land reform is failing and land inequalities persist, in large part because of structural flaws in the political bargain that Mandela struck. The upside of the bargain was that it ensured South Africa transitioned from apartheid to democracy without massive bloodshed or economic disintegration. Mandela may well have chosen the best option available to him. But was the system fair? Hardly.
Mandela should not be deified. He was a man forced to make hard choices, and he left a legacy of both reconciliation and inequality.
Foreign Policy Expert and Ambassador to The African Union
, Adjunct senior fellow for African peace and security issues at the Council of African Affairs , Nasr also sits on the Africa-Middle East Trade and Securities Counsel