Greed and restitution
When they conclude their national executive committee meeting in Tshwane this afternoon, the ANC's leaders might want to take a 10-minute drive through the area before they rush back to their homes.
From the St George's Hotel they should take the N1 North towards Polokwane. Just after the Grasmere toll plaza, on their right, they will begin to see a spectacle that will break or warm their hearts. They will see thousands of shacks, stretching out into the mountains, dotted on the landscape.
They should keep driving. For kilometres, the shacks stretch on. This is Wallmansthal. This land is being invaded. Yet there is nothing here, except these ramshackle shacks. There are no people. There are no services: no water no electricity, no roads. Just small shacks that blight the land as far as the eye can see.
The story of Wallmansthal represents one of the great challenges this country faces as it concludes its second decade of democracy. The story of Wallmansthal is the story of empowerment, of apartheid, of greed, of restoration, of law and order, of laziness, of bureaucratic malfeasance, of corruption and of a country divided.
Two weeks ago I met one of my Pretoria friends in the city centre as he returned from Wallmansthal.
"I have two yards there now. I bought land," he said.
Hearing that there was land available in Wallmansthal, he had rushed there. A self-appointed committee sat at the "entrance" to the land. You pay a R400 "administration fee" for your piece of land.
"Do you get a receipt?"
"No. What you do is buy the 2m by 2m corrugated iron shack from these same guys and then erect it on a piece of land. Write your name in big letters on it. That's your land. I paid R800 for two plots. When the land is formalised, I am already in there. Half of the elites in Pretoria are doing it. Some buy four or five lots and wait," he said.
What caused the stampede for this particular piece of land? The original landowners were kicked off their land in the 1960s due to the Group Areas Act. In 2007, about 4270 of them finally won the land back and the government promised development of the area.
The Sowetan newspaper quoted 88-year-old Raisobe Malema, one of those kicked off the land in the 1960s, as saying: "We lost more than just land. We are a generation disconnected from our heritage, taken out of our livelihoods and thrown into poverty. Today we are rising from the ashes."
Many of the original claimants did not even know that their land had been won back. This opened up the opportunity for crooked entrepreneurs to set themselves up as "administrators" of the land.
And so today a network of these administrators, creaming off thousands of rands from people like my friend, exists. To get a piece one does not have to be originally from Wallmansthal.
There are various forces at play here. In an article on nationalisation, writer Isaac Mogotsi refers to British psychologist David Tuckett's term of "a fantastic object - an unreal but attractive object of desire".
The ANC Youth League's flirtation with the nationalisation of mines and banks is one such "object". Land is another. Wallmansthal illustrates a complex web of impulses. The first is that there continues to be a hunger for land, even among those who do not necessarily want to farm or work it.
The second is greed, co-mingled with the fact that many of the land occupiers claim that "it was taken from us anyway" in which the "us" refers to blacks in general. In Wallmansthal, the greedy are illegally occupying the land rightly belonging to the 88-year-old Malema simply because they can.
This second interplay has an undercurrent that ties in with the "popularity" of the nationalisation debate. Despite the commendable progress the ANC government has made since 1994, the challenges of unemployment and inequality continue to grow. Blacks on the whole feel outsiders in this economy while many whites feel under siege.
It is an uncomfortable conversation. Would a Desmond Tutu-like conversation on wealth tax begin the solution? Should this conversation wait for another populist like Julius Malema to do what the greedy are doing in Wallmansthal - exploit an unsolved problem?
So long as inequality remains so deep, so long as we spew out kids into the world at age 18 in the full knowledge that they will not find work, then our problems with the "fantastic objects" around us - and growing inequality - will continue.
Wallmansthal is a symptom of something wrong in our country. The fire is here. We ignore it at our peril.