Land, Dispossession and Reparatory Justice

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Land, Dispossession and Reparatory Justice

6:00 pm - 8:00 pm | 06 May 2021
Online | Free

Land has been a major question in reparatory justice, more so since the dispossession of Afrikan people of their homeland started escalating with chattel enslavement and colonisation by European powers. That is why self-emancipating enslaved Afrikans sought to regain land for rebuilding their communities and reasserting their own Afrikan sovereignty away from the plantations of their enslavement. This gave rise even in the Diaspora of Abya Yala to polities like Palmares and other Quilombos, Palenques and Maroon settlements such as that led by Nana Pokuwaa, otherwise known as Nanny of the Maroons.

Underlying the recent unrest sweeping U.S. cities over police brutality is a fundamental inequity in land, wealth, and power, all of which has circumscribed Black lives since the end of slavery. The restitution promised to the formerly enslaved, among which is the famous ‘40 acres and a mule’, never came to pass. There was no redistribution of land and no monetary reparations for the wealth gained by the enslavers from the labour stolen from Black bodies. This also holds true for the freedmen and women of the nations of the Caribbean and Latin America.

As is well recognised, it was greed and violence that drove European colonizers’ acquisition of land in Afrika and Abya Yala (the so-called Americas). Their efforts were aimed at conquering and dehumanizing the original owners through military might and enslavement. Land was seized with total disregard for the Indigenous peoples’ traditional beliefs and the cultures underpinning their spirituality. Many Indigenous communities lost their heritages, identity, languages, cultures and spirituality, which were intimately tied to the land itself. These losses were omnipresent factors of Afrikan enslavement.

For formerly chattelised Afrikans, the failure (after abolition) to provide land for their resettlement violates a fundamental principle of being. In much of traditional Afrika, land is the birthright of every Afrikan Indigenous person. It has a communal dimension whereby all members of the community are expected to share its resources under some form of traditional authority. This concept of traditional authority is important because, in addition to being a uniting force, the community leadership is often seen as a steward with divine authority over land

As Rev. Rupert Hambira writes, ‘The question of land, which is the primary source and sustainer of human life, cannot but be central to the spirituality of all the Indigenous communities. [… Thus] the question of access to land and a harmonious relationship to it is so central not only for the spirituality but the overall world-view of Indigenous communities in general’.

Even from a European perspective the denial of land rights also violates the process of liberation and the Enlightenment ideals that interconnects land ownership and the achievement of personal freedom. As de Crèvecoeur wrote in 1782, ‘ultimate personal freedom in America is achieved by working and owning land’ (Letters from an American Farmer).

The foundational links between land as a material asset to sustain life and promote survival, and land as a site of spiritual renewal and continuity for the newly-freed Afrikan people, are evident in the Freedmen’s Committee’s appeal to General Oliver Howard in 1865 on Edisto Island (1865). Those men were mindful of both Enlightenment precepts and the ancient Afrikan fundamental belief in the inseparability of humanity from nature, i.e., from the land as home to the living, as well as the sanctuary of the ancestors and the gods. They rejected the new proposal to deprive them of the land promised as reparation for their unpaid labour and other forms of dehumanization. They demanded Homesteads and ‘land enough to lay our Fathers bones upon’. To be without this land ‘is not the condition of really free men’

Freedom remains hollow, particularly in those parts of Afrika where, in spite of the claim that apartheid has been abolished, white settler-colonialism continues to maintain its racist stranglehold on land violently robbed from Indigenous Afrikan communities. According to a 2017 land audit by the South African government, 72 per cent of the country’s arable land remains in the hands of white settlers, who account for fewer than 10 percent of the total population. Land grabbing from Indigenous Afrikan communities is continuing up until today. Organisations like the Extinction Rebellion Internationalist Solidarity Network and Survival International campaign to denounce colonial malpractices of conservation. It is noteworthy that such malpractices are being carried out by transnational NGOs such as WWF who are continuing to dispossess Afrikan communities of land and deny them access to their ancestral homes in forests and desserts under the greenwash guise of expanding conservation to address the climate and ecological crisis. It is in the light of such developments, which are being decried as worsening genocide and ecocide by giving rise to eco-fascism, that INOSAAR sees the urgency of lending its voices to discourses on land, dispossession and reparatory justice.

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We ask panelists and participants to consider the following:

  1. What would reparative justice in the form of land distribution and land rights on the continent of Afrika involve and what issues are at stake?
  2. Legalised discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality, murder, dispossession and disenfranchisement continued long after the American Civil War ended. Some argue that this history has profoundly handicapped Afrikan Americans’ ability to create and accumulate wealth, as well as to gain access to jobs, housing, education. How might we address this fact as an issue of reparatory justice?
  3. Dispossession of property via gentrification and the government’s right of eminent domain (also known as land acquisition, compulsory purchase and expropriation) have resulted in the loss of homes and destruction of Black communities throughout the Continent and Diaspora of Afrika. What considerations should be given to these factors in terms of reparatory justice?
  4. Can reparative justice be fully achieved without consideration of the dispossession and landlessness of millions of Afrikans displaced by chattel enslavement, colonialism and neocolonialism?
  5. To what extent do reparatory justice frameworks adequately connect the question of access to land and spiritual and cultural repair?

Our panellists include:

  • MoAfrika Chris Sankara is the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC-A) National Organiser, as well as a former combatant of the Azania People’s Liberation Army (the armed wing of the PAC-A), a former PAC-A Gauteng Chairperson, and the founder and Chairperson of the World Wide Pan-Afrikan Movement (WWPAM).
  • Dr. Andreia Lisboa Sousa Johnson is the former International Affair’s Coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Black Researchers, ABPN, and is currently part of a network of social justice movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the US.
  • Esther Stanford-Xosei is a Jurisconsult, Interdisciplinary (Law & History) Scholar-Activist, Co-Vice Chair of PARCOE and Coordinator-General of the Stop the Maangamizi: We Charge Genocide/Ecocide Campaign.
  • Professor David Hinds is an associate professor of African and African American studies at Arizona State University, with a concentration on Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies in the School of Social Transformation.
  • Al Hope, Jr. is Executive Vice President for Corporate Development for Hope for Africa (HFA), an international NGO in consultative status with the United Nation’s Social and Economic Development Council with extensive experience in non-profit, economic development, and education sectors, and in community economic development and business development.

Header Image: Reparations March, Bristol, 2019

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