At the 103rd birthday celebration of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma delivered a speech which appeared to contain a contradiction.

On the one hand he went out of his way to reiterate that all his countrymen (and women) were equal, yet in other parts of the speech this assurance appears to have been lost.

President Zuma recalled the promise in the Preamble to the Freedom Charter, which declared that: “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know that South Africa belongs to All Who Live In It, Black and White and that No Government Can Justly Claim Authority unless it is based on the Will of All The People”.

Indeed, the president went further, saying: “After twenty years of an ANC government, we can declare unequivocally that South Africans have equal rights, which are entrenched in the Constitution.”

The land issue

But when it comes to the question of the land, a different tone is adopted. “Land has been at the heart of the historic injustice of dispossession and the stripping the dignity of the African people. The majority of our people can mainly trace their suffering and deprivation back to land dispossession.”

In these sentences it is clear that President Zuma assumes that “our people” refer to the “African people” and to them alone. The dispossession of Indians and Coloured people has been airbrushed out of history.

This difficulty crops up time and again in ANC speeches and writing. At one moment everyone is a South African. And at another moment whites are treated (implicitly) as third class citizens, in league with imperialism. Perhaps the status of second class is reserved for the Indian and Coloured populations.

Now I would not for a moment deny that there is justice in the land claims. I fully acknowledge the anger and frustration that began in 1913 (to trace it no further back) and continued and escalated under apartheid. There are people alive today who recall being thrown off their lands – brutally – and driven into poverty. This is an historic injustice that calls out to be corrected.

“Our people”

Having said this, a number of questions arise.

1. A considerable amount of land restitution has already taken place. When will this process be finished and an end to restitution be declared?

2. What of the injustice of people who have been forced off their lands since the end of apartheid? Or the injustice meted out by men like the president’s kinsman, Khulubuse Zuma to the miners of Aurora, whom he didn’t pay for 18 months – driving some to suicide. Why is the single issue of land seen as alone worthy of restitution, but others are ignored?

3. When will all the people of South Africa – White, Coloured and India, as well as African, of course – be really treated as equals by the ANC, in speech and in deed?

South African whites have lived in the country for more than three centuries. They are African and have the right to be treated as such and not regarded (covertly, surreptitiously) as colonialists.

“Our people” must mean all of South Africa’s people – all of the time.