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July 13, 2011

Why land matters to Africans regardless of agriculture

by Chambi Chachage

‘Nothing will compensate an African for the loss of his land’ – Sir Godfrey Lagden

Agriculture is back on the international agenda on Africa. A green-cum-agrarian revolution is thus being televised. At the heart of this quest, however, is the question of land use – and control.

It is within this context a number of diplomats, investors, researchers and scholars across the ideological divides recently convened at the Mumbai’s World Trade Centre and the University of Mumbai in India for an International Conference on ‘South- South Cooperation: India, Africa and Food Security: Between the Summits.’ Soon afterwards, some of them gathered at Rhodes University in South Africa for the third African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS) Summer School on the ‘Global Crisis, Scramble and Agrarian Reform in the South.’ In both cases the agrarian question in relation to agricultural productivity and ownership of land in Africa was brought to the fore, not least because of the ‘new’ wave of ‘land grabbing’ across the continent.

The case of South Africa and Zimbabwe’s ongoing land reforms highlights this contentious relationship. On the one hand they jointly affirm the centrality of land ownership in Africa irrespective of whether Africans use it for agricultural production or not. Yet, on the other hand, they dialectically confirm the viability of agricultural productivity among the African peasantry.

Land dispossession, if one has to be reminded, has never augured well with Africans since time immemorial. In fact colonizers and settlers were very much aware of this.

...after all they had a rationale for being where they were in the first place. It is those kind of rationales that one needs to unpack, even today, before jumping into the bandwagon of claiming such and such land in Africa is idle and hence the imperial imperative of displacing Africans to pave way for investors.

'... land remains a basic source of livelihood for the majority of southern Africans in areas such as the development of agriculture, tourism, mining, housing and industry. Thus...land question is not only an agrarian issue, but also a critical social question.’

What has been happening in and to Zimbabwe is a wake-up call, not only to South Africa, but to all African countries that wish away the land question under the guise of an agrarian question. As long as the national question remains unresolved these questions need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. This is particularly so now in the neo-liberal context of ongoing land grabs in Africa.

full article...Pambazuka

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