When we cry ‘Bring back our land’, some think that we simply shout these words because it is in vogue to say so, that it is cool to utter them. They do not understand the pain coming from the open scars that are a source of these words. Their minds cannot fathom the sorrowful message that is carried within this phrase. For years Africans have been calling for the return of the land to its rightful owners. The gifted founder of the ANC Youth League Muziwakhe Anton Lembede, a protégé of Pixley ka Isaka Seme – a man who himself founded the broad church of the ANC – called for the return of the land, declaring in emphatical words: economic freedom in our lifetime.
Our history as Africans has depicted us as meek, peaceful people who suffer from a lack of confidence, inferior mental faculties and would rather sidestep the truth instead of facing it. This feeds the belief that we are being unreasonable for demanding what was unlawfully and forcefully taken from us with a barrel of a gun. To add to the pain, there are some blacks who have no shame questioning the return of land to its rightful owners – the black people of South Africa. To them, the ‘great masses of our people’ who are landless, despondent in poverty and miserable in numbing pain, do not deserve justice and any sight of wealth. These Uncle Toms – as the late Reverend Malcolm X would call them – seem to suggest that wealth was ordained for whites and poverty and misery in their ugliness are the characteristic nature of black existence.
In her hateful vomit of tweets, typical of her whenever she feels like offending black people, reminding us that we are nonentities, the premier of Western Cape and former DA (Democratic Alliance) leader Helen Zille said earlier this year that colonialism was beneficial to the people of this continent. The inhumane treatment and thoughtless snuffing of lives from black people like flies was critical to the civilisation of Africa. Without these heinous acts Africans would still be trapped in caves, using sticks to make fire. Had the visionary Europeans not stolen land from its rightful owners – that being Africans – to build modern infrastructure this continent would still be stuck in the Stone Age. This is the enlightenment that your favourite tannie from Cape Town brought us in 2017. This is the very same racist who is quick to remind us that it was she who reported the murder of Steve Biko whenever she is called out for her racism, as if that is supposed to shield her from rebuke or excuse her behavior.
In modern South Africa, where in reality nothing has really changed for the total upliftment of the people of Morolong wa Modiboa Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, Zille like all racists in this country escaped unscathed and we moved on, for we are a ‘meek’ people. Her party, the DA, issued some feeble public statement, promising that Zille will be severely reprimanded for her offensive tweets and be subjected to a disciplinary hearing; all that useless rubbish to pacify us and make us go away. Without fail, Zille returned weeks later, and took to Twitter to remind us of our place: unrefined natives who were saved by European thuggery. At the end of the day, in the eyes of some of these European descendants – because Zille is not alone in this backward colonial thinking – despite Mandela’s reconciliation speeches, blacks are and will always be nothing but objects of entertainment for whites. Video clips of whites calling us kaffirs, beating us to the pulp are a daily pastime on social media.
Thus, when we cry for the return of the land to its rightful owners in South Africa, Africa’s most southern country, we do so because we cry for the restoration of our dignity. Each day when we make calls for our land to be returned, we are asking to be respected as a people. Each day when we plead for the restoration of land to us, the humble descendants of Lilian Ngoyi, Charlotte Maxeke, Nokutela Dube, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, we are saying that we too are humans who deserve quality education and health, proper shelter and nourishing food and clean water, as well as freedom to explore science and technology.
Economics while very critical to the outcome, the return of the land to its rightful owners is a matter of restoring the respect and dignity of the African. As Africans in South Africa we own nothing of substance, or to use the EFF leader Julius Malema’s speak, we own no means of production. Now I can almost hear Uncle Toms and their white liberal mates screaming, ‘You will collapse the economy.’ Franky speaking, if the thriving of the economy depends on the suffering of the ordinary masses of this country, the black offspring of Tiyo Soga and Meshack Pelem, then perhaps the economy needs to take a back seat. The black people of this country are tired of being visitors in their own land. As they say in Setswana: ‘Molato ga o bole.’ I am afraid that the time has come to collect on that debt.
If you are a reading person and a perpetual student of history, you will agree with me that there is no opening in line in South Africa’s history books which contends with the first sentence from Tshekisho Solomon Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: ‘Awaking on Friday morning, 20 June, 1913, the South African native found himself, not a slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.’ In this sentence alone Plaatje delivers a succinct message to the reader: the black person in South Africa has been stripped off his dignity. Naked, exposed and humiliated, his existence is no less than that of an animal roaming the wild. The white man had kicked him off his land to die with no place to call home, forced to bury his loved ones, like a dog, next to the road.
We suffer today from Zille and her ilk because as history has portrayed us, as meek, subservient and forgiving, we fail to organise and shout in one voice that shows determination and union in demanding our land back. By taking to Twitter each time Zille is taunting us, she is exposing us, embarrassing us and proving to her cohorts that Africans are mere animals that are weak, spineless and forgiving.
In 2017, hundred and one years since Morolong published his searing book, one that remains relevant to this day, I call on to his people, his offspring to demand their land back; not as a stunt but as restoration of the dignity of the people of Tshekisho Plaatje, those who were forced to bury their children next to the road. By doing so we shall be dressing them; they shall no longer be exposed and humiliated. They will be dignified in their rest, and we too as their descendants – the progeny of Tshekisho Plaatje – we shall be able to produce from our own land that which says to anybody who cares to look and listen: we are Africans and we are proud. I can almost hear that complex South African, president Jacob Zuma singing at the top of his voice, crying for the return of the land:
‘Thina sizwe esimnyama,
Sikhalelela izwe lethu
Mabayeke umhlaba wethu.’
This song, like many other struggle songs, was composed out of pain, out of misery and out of heart-wrenching sorrow. No man or woman, at least a sane one, can create such a beautiful yet poignant song out of joy. It would be tantamount to wizardry and witchcraft. Thina sizwe esimnyama sing these words because we cry for justice for our loved ones, those who had to give up their land only to be forced to toil in the deep, scary and dangerous bowels of the earth, far from their homes in the Eastern Cape, Lesotho, Northern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique; leaving behind families and friends alone.
In receiving our land back with no strings attached, we would finally find closure with the knowledge that a wrong has been corrected and justice has been served. In receiving our land back, in the midst of the noise made by cynics asking what we shall do with land upon getting it, we shall walk its fertile ground and say unto them: ‘It is our land. What we do with it is none of your tuckshop.’ For dignity will be restored to the black person of South Africa, dead or alive. Morolong and those who were forced to bury their children alongside the road will finally rest in eternal peace. Kgotsong!