Addressing land ownership in South Africa does not make the government racist, President Jacob Zuma said in his reply on Thursday to MPs who had debated his State of the Nation address (Sona) earlier this week.
Zuma was speaking inside the National Assembly in Parliament, where his comments on land reform were met with applause. Zuma said “responsible leadership today must find a way” to avoid a situation that could “explode” later if land ownership remains unaddressed.
“If we don’t I think we will not be working toward a future that is peaceful, because we will be saying some must live without any land when there is land in the country,” he said.
The topic of racism and land ownership was raised by Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald. On Wednesday, Groenewald issued a statement saying it’s a “disgrace” that Zuma blames white people for his own failures in terms of job creation and the government’s plan for “radical economic transformation”.
“The time has also come for the president to say what he has against white people,” Groenwald said.
In his Sona speech last week, President Zuma said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for reconciliation to be accomplished until land ownership in South Africa has been resolved. He announced during his address that he had sent the Expropriation Act back to Parliament in order to pursue land reform and redistribution lawfully.
On Thursday, in his Sona reply, Zuma emphasised that “it does not display hatred” for land issue to be addressed.
“I don’t think it helps to jump into phrases that if somebody talks about the land, the land hunger, then [they are] hating the whites. How else do you describe those who own the land? How do you describe them if you don’t say what happened?” Zuma said.
Veering away from his scripted speech, the president spoke candidly about the history of colonialism in South Africa, where white people from European nations – such as the Netherlands – settled on South African land. Zuma said the dispossession of land from black South Africans continued with apartheid and, at present, white South Africans continue to own large parcels of land.
“Many people died. That’s not the point we want to talk about. If we were driven by hatred, we would be saying ‘this is what happened’. We are just saying let us find a way, a formula to solve this problem. That’s all,” he said.
The president directly addressed MPs such as Groenewald, who accused him of being racist, saying race is not a factor.
“I just wanted to disabuse you from always coming here and saying this is racialism. It’s not.”
Zuma encouraged MPs to debate issues instead of “point at the colour”, which he described as a “careless” way to resolve questions. Remembering the apartheid era, Zuma said that during the anti-apartheid struggle he worked with white people and that the ANC adopted nonracialism as a policy before South Africa’s first democractic elections. He pointed out that government would continue to debate land ownership because doing so does not mean government is racist.
“We are not going to stop by saying you hate the whites. It’s not true. I’ve worked with the whites, there were whites who were in the struggle too, who were in the trenches too,” Zuma said.
“I would not have been with them there if I was racist. They were my comrades. We lived together. We in the ANC have gone beyond the feelings of racism. Far beyond, even before 1994.”
On the topic on land ownership, Zuma had one last thing to say about race: “It’s not the issue”.