Owning land means nothing

Owning land means nothing

By Poloko Khabele

“In my country, when you have land you have freedom,” said my Kenyan friend.

“Perhaps that’s true in Kenya but that’s definitely not the case in the Mountain Kingdom,” I responded passionately.

I then argued my case using examples from personal experiences and observations.

As Basotho, we see the value inherent in land only when the land is next door (urban areas & South Africa) and not when in our own backyard (village). We behave as if we are landless and invest in foreign lands our time, effort, resources, talents etc. to our own detriment.

Secondly, we treat land as if it were a piece of jewellery i.e. as something to flaunt and to show-off. We consequently fail to sufficiently use it for productive purposes.

My friend was taken aback by my response. This just made me more determined to disprove his point that ownership of land means having freedom.

From what I have seen and experienced, I am convinced that what the Gurus say about the benefits of owning land is not universally applicable.

I have seen far too many people in my family in the past and to this day inexplicably leave fertile land to become peasants in “Khauteng” instead of living like masters on their own land.

Perhaps it’s different in other families. But in my family, the men folk when in their most productive years, flock to neighbouring South Africa in search of work opportunities leaving our mothers, aunts, sisters to toil the land.

This pattern has continued unbridled for years. It has sadly even started to include even the younger women folk in the family.

If land were truly an asset as the books say, why do so many generations of men and now women in my family not see that? Why do we choose to subject ourselves to harsh living conditions and exploitation in South Africa when we could instead be feeding-off our own land? Why is hardship here intolerable but bearable in South Africa? What is this force causing generations in my family to keep fleeing from their land?

Something here is not right.

I have also come to the unfortunate realisation that in Lesotho, the objective of owning land is in order to have bragging rights and not to be able to “eat” from it. Take the example of one institution in the country with vast pieces of unutilised productive land. They currently earn no income from this so called “asset”.

An ambitious and visionary entrepreneur I know identified this wasted potential and approached those responsible with the aim to use the land for the benefit of all involved. This patriotic Mosotho with the means to invest in the land and to make it productive was fobbed off with no clear reasons given.

It seems that the knowledge that one has vast tracks of land is more important than actually using the land to generate income from it.

How else do you explain turning away someone who is willing to invest their own money and resources to make unused land productive? Does anyone even care that land across the country is so inefficiently utilised?

You say the drought? Ok fine. Believe what you want to believe. I will stick with my story that for us, land is for flaunting and showing off purposes i.e. to be able to brag that I have more land than you.

I strongly disagree with the “Bwana” from Kenya that to own land is to have freedom. As far as I am concerned, owning and not owning land in Lesotho makes no difference.

Just go to the big cities and towns here and across the border. You will find many of our country men living no differently from paupers even though they have land back in the village.

And incredibly, many of us across the country continue to buy foreign produced food even though we could easily grow this same food locally on land we have in abundance (in the majority of instances, debt free) but chose not to do so because OUR land is not meant for production.

So where is the freedom in all this?

Without smart policies to deal with these challenges, we will never win. We will instead see:

(1) an increase in the inefficient use of land as more families see their most productive members abandon fertile land to go work as peasants in the urban centres and

(2) more institutions and individuals continuing to sit on productive land.

Not winning implies more deportations from South Africa, more congestion in the urban centres, more poverty, greater food insecurity, more dependence on foreign aid, more despondency, more despair, more servitude in foreign lands of our best resource i.e. our youth.

I pray for the day in our lifetime when owning land will also mean for us freedom.

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