South Africa is ground zero for the fight against HIV/AIDS and the international community relies upon its soft power to deal with the political crises in Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. Due to South Africa's successful democracy and its leadership in its region, the world is blind to the nation's Achilles heel -- its highly skewed and contentious distribution of land.
Due to unjust Apartheid-era policies, when Mandela won the presidency in 1994, whites owned about 87% of the land although they constituted less than 10% of the population. In the political bargain that ended apartheid, Mandela allowed whites to keep their property despite how it was acquired. In exchange, blacks received the promise of land redistribution, which is guaranteed by section 25 of the South African Constitution. But, less than 1% of the country's land was redistributed by 1999, less than 3% by 2003, and less than 5% by 2008. Consequently, one of the most overlooked injustices of the 21st century is that only one side of Mandela's bargain has been upheld.
More importantly, if the U.S. and other world leaders do not intervene to help South Africa correct the skewed distribution of land, unrest will result. James Gibson, a Political Scientist at Washington University, surveyed 3,700 South Africans and found that 85% of black respondents believe that "most land in South Africa was taken unfairly by white settlers, and they therefore have no right to the land today." His most troubling finding is that 2 of every 3 blacks agreed that "land must be returned to blacks in South Africa, no matter what the consequences are for the current owners and for political stability in the country." To be sure, hurriedly redistributing land with no technical or financial support for new owners can have disastrous consequences, as we have witnessed in Zimbabwe. But, Gibson's data suggests that the current dilatory pace of land redistribution in South Africa can also have devastating consequences.
South Africa's ruling party (the ANC) has been diligently working on redistributing the land, but they require technical and financial support from the West to overcome the massive challenges they are facing in the areas of administration and post settlement support. America should earmark at least $4.5 million specifically to bolster South Africa's land redistribution programs.
Sunday is the 30th anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence from white rule. Due in large part Mugabe's manipulation of his countrymen's deep seated anger over the severe land inequalities created under colonialism, Zimbabwe has fallen apart. America cannot stand by and allow South Africa to go down the same treacherous path. Americans played a significant role in ending Apartheid, however, the land-based inequalities born under Apartheid live on. Americans must once again lend a hand to our South African allies and put the legacy of Apartheid to rest once and for all.