Land activists concluded
last year that land reform has failed. It has not secured poor people’s access
to the land and services they are entitled to in terms of the Constitution, laws
and policies. Instead, the rural poor remain trapped in contingency, their
fragile livelihoods subject to ongoing negotiation with those who have power
over critical assets. Most severely affected are farm dwellers.
2004 provided much
opportunity to reflect on why this is the case. Some attribute it to the lack of
political will to alter rural power relations; others argue that the slow pace
of land reform is the result of low budgets, too few land reform staff and
unclear and complicated procedures; yet others say the government’s economic and
political agenda is neoliberal and that the current land reform programme cannot
therefore by its very nature deliver land on scale to the poor.
But what do the rural
poor say? No one, it seems, has really asked.
AFRA decided to try to
facilitate an opportunity for farm dwellers to speak directly to their political
leaders about what their lives are like and what effects government’s attempts
to intervene have had. The medium chosen was a documentary, which is available
as a video and a DVD. In this documentary, farm dwellers talk about what home
means to them, about their relationships to land and its resources, about their
attempts to make the law work to secure their legal entitlements and about how
the law has betrayed them even in their most difficult moments, when a family
member dies. What emerges is a story about forgotten citizens, a legal system
that shows them little mercy and the battle they have to hold together the
pieces of their lives that are enmeshed in legal contradictions, when loved ones
die. This AFRA News is a textual representation of these stories.
What is a home? For many
of us, it is a building we buy as adults when we start a family. We sell it when
we have the capital and capacity to afford more valuable property. Our children
adjust to the notion that home follows the family rather than the land-spaces
the family occupies. But for the people who share their perspectives in the AFRA
documentary, home is a very different place. Home is marked by the graves of
ancestors. These graves house the connection between the present and the past, a
material connection kept alive through ritualized communication with deceased
family elders, who are always referred to in the present tense.
Land is the source of
life, of health and well-being (“impilo”). It supports crops that feed the
family, livestock that provide milk, meat, ancestral sacrifice, ploughing
capacity and dung for fertilization and floor polish and herbs that are cooked
and used in herbal and spiritual remedies. Land is a vital container of home.
There is no home without land.
Many people interviewed
reflect on the changes that have taken place over the past decade or so. For
some, these changes have resulted in worse conditions and they’re asking for a
return to past relationships, their memories glorifying what it used to be like
to be a labour tenant or farm worker. Government has failed them, farm owners
have deceived them and yet they themselves often reacted in good faith. The
documentary is full of stories of betrayal — some with huge impact on people’s
lives, their conditions of existence; others at a psychological level of
disrespect. “Never have we seen such a thing since Jesus,” says one labour
tenant about betrayal.
These are not stories of
people working outside of government, rejecting government. They’re stories of
people trying to access the resources and support government promised them. They
are people who need government to support them against those they depend on for
much that is essential to their existence, land owners. Without this support,
their lives are precarious, and sometimes made worse by half-hearted and
careless government interventions.