PROFESSOR LUNGISILE NTSEBEZA’S ACCEPTANCE TALK AT LEIDEN UNIVERSITY
7 FEBRUARY 2020
First and foremost, I wish to thank, unreservedly the Board of Deans, as well as the Doctorate Board for bestowing this Honorary Doctorate on me. I also want to thank Professor Jan-Bart Gewald, the Director of the African Studies Centre and his predecessor, Professor Ton Dietz for having so much confidence in me, both as a person and for my work, by nominating me for this substantial award. I should also add that I am extremely delighted that my wife, Zoleka, whose support has been and continues to be unwavering, is here with me to share this historical moment.
Finally, I want to acknowledge with excitement the presence among us of Professor John Dugard, a world renowned South African born jurist who is currently residing here in the Netherlands and who also was Professor in the Law Faculty here at Leiden University. I first met Professor Dugard in March 1977 when a group of us were, as Professor Gewald has mentioned, arrested in Transkei in June 1976 and later charged for studying literature that, at the time, was considered to be subversive. Our case started in November 1976. On 11 March 1977, we brought in Professor Dugard to argue for our discharge on the grounds that we were charged for offences against the personality of the State. In October 1976, the apartheid regime had granted independence to the Transkei bantustan. Independence had given Transkei a new personality. Professor Dugard’s argument was that there was no evidence showing that we had committed offences against the Transkei as it existed after its independence. Sadly, the presiding judge, Chief Justice George Munnik, refused the application but never gave any reasons. He sent four of us to jail.
I am singularly thrilled that almost 43 years later, I am meeting Professor Dugard in totally different circumstances, marking a recognition of not only my scholarship but African scholarship that the architects of apartheid and their allies sought to deny. My scholarship, as again Prof Gewald has outlined, revolves around three themes:
democratisation in South Africa’s countryside;
land and equity in the context of the struggle against poverty, and
social movements in the land sector.
The theme around democratization in the countryside is informed by the argument that the recognition by the South African constitution of the institution of traditional leadership, whose incumbents are unelected, coupled with the establishment of Traditional and Khoi-san Councils, compromise the post-1994 democratic project. These councils, my argument goes, are modelled along the lines of the apartheid created Tribal Authorities and are characterised by having a majority of unelected members. This then gives rise to questions about the meaning of democracy for people residing in rural areas that are under the jurisdiction of these Councils. I situate the issue of democratization in the countryside within the broader context of land dispossession in South Africa, paying particular focus on how, following national liberation leaders and progressive scholars, a tiny foreign minority ruled an indigenous majority. Divide and rule, mainly through coopted chiefs, was the tool that colonialists, particularly the British, used.
This takes me to my second theme: the land question in South Africa and how the ANC-led government has grappled and is grappling with it. My key argument in this regard is that Section 25 of the South African Constitution, the Property Clause, poses a major
hindrance to genuine land reform. This clause recognizes property rights which were historically acquired violently and by fraud without putting the historically question as a point of departure. My first major publication in this regard was in 2007, more than 10 years before the issue became a matter of public debate as is the case as I speak. As is widely known and accepted, the South African land reform programme is a colossal failure, with less than 10 per cent of more than 80 per cent of agricultural land that was in white hands transferred to black hands.
However, my research is not only looking at limitations of the South African land reform programme, I also focus on the land that has been transferred to blacks and consider the broader question of whether or not access to land makes a difference in the livelihoods of South Africans, both rural and urban. The third theme of my research is on agency. Here I specifically focus on the role of social movements in the struggle for land and livelihoods. Apart from limitations posed by the Property Clause to radical land reform in South Africa, I identified social movements in the land sector as another explanation of the slow pace of land reform in South Africa. They were, in my opinion, weak in the sense that they unorganized and did not have a coherence plan of action. However, the historic farm workers/dwellers revolt towards the end of 2012 into the beginning of 2013 compelled me to reconsider my position, and I am now trying to follow their everyday struggles, their successes and challenges.
Although the main focus of my work is the land question in South Africa, I have since 2012 been doing comparative research involving other African countries, notably, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This has been made possible through one of the Research Chairs I hold, the A.C. Jordan Chair in African Studies.
I have also managed, through my Chairs, to put together a research team involving some of my colleagues, post-doctoral fellows I guide and supervise, as well as my post-graduate students. This makes it possible for us to explore the range of issues covered in the three themes outlined above.
To conclude, this honour could not have come at a better time. On 20 November last year, the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa signed into law the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act. Some of the provisions of the Act are:
To provide for the recognition of traditional and Khoi-San communities,
leadership positions and for the withdrawal of such recognition; and
To provide for the functions and roles of traditional and Khoi-San leaders;
The Act replaces the law I referred to earlier which I argue resuscitated apartheid era
Tribal Authorities. What the Act does is to extend these structures to new territories, notably the Western and Northern Cape, with new actors, those identifying themselves as the Khoi-San. A feature of these areas is that they never had bantustans. The implication for my research is that I will have to pay more attention to the land question in the Western and Northern Cape, going back to the 17th century, when Dutch colonialists dispossessed the indigenous people of their land. Given that a significant amount of the archival material would have been in Dutch, I see opportunities of collaboration with my Dutch colleagues here at Leiden University, opportunities I have already begun exploring. My return to the Netherlands in December this year, as convenor of a panel on land issues for the forthcoming “Africa Knows!” conference that will be the culmination of the Africa 2020 commemoration, undoubtedly provides another opportunity of
consolidating the collaboration.