The three tectonic plates of politics

2018-04-01 06:29
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa; EFF leader Julius Malema and DA leader Mmusi Maimane

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa; EFF leader Julius Malema and DA leader Mmusi Maimane

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What is emerging as we trundle towards the 2019 elections is that there are three fundamentals that are all non-negotiable to South African citizens. These sometimes clash, and because they are championed by three parties, you get the kind of jostling that is going on in Nelson Mandela Bay.

First there is the rule of law. This is fundamental to democracy. If we want to keep democracy. Is it worth keeping if it cannot solve social evils such as inequality and unemployment?

Julius Caesar was totally undemocratic and replaced Rome’s cherished democracy. But he brought stability and prosperity to Rome and the Mediterranean world because he preserved the rule of law. This is why some countries have traded democracy for military governments – to create the optimal conditions for economic growth.

When there is a breakdown of the rule of law, you can have phenomena such as people invading land that does not belong to them, or the rich and powerful behaving as if they are above the law. This can disintegrate into lawlessness – where “might is right”. Failed states come to mind. Anarchy. Revolutionary change.

Adolf Hitler was a tyrant who could not abide anarchy. He was very undemocratic but he rapidly lifted Germany out of 30% unemployment rates and restored it to a position of prominence. You don’t have to be democratic to do that. But are we ready to risk which result we will get if we put democracy on the auction block to the highest bidder?

Second is land reform. I have never met anyone who thinks that the status quo is perfect. Everyone agrees that change is imperative and inevitable. The disagreements are about how. Some say to act like the Occupy movement and just take land that is not yours. Others say that government must speed up lawful land reform. Others say that we have to move the goalposts – amend the Constitution. So that we can achieve land reform without transgressing the law.

I have been beating the drum of Jubilee – the biblical approach to land redistribution. In fact, Jubilee was part of the law. Land reform was legislated. But it was a periodic approach to leveling the playing field. In the Year of Jubilee, you had a right to leave poverty and return to productive land. And those who had accumulated land simply had to give some up. Why? Because they were all citizens. No citizen can linger indefinitely or perpetually on the margins of productivity – they all must be brought back to economically active status.

According to scripture, the land belongs to God. This is a fundamentally different view from the Marxist one that land belongs to the state. Or from the capitalist view that sanctifies private property. Long before economist Adam Smith, the church upheld the doctrine of private property. I came to be aligned with feudalism – in which the aristocracy owned the land and the peasants worked it and paid them taxes. The church Reformers challenged this view and, at least in part, were responsible for the peasant revolts in England and Germany.

Neither John Wycliffe nor Martin Luther condoned these violent uprisings, which were both quelled by the rule of law. But it was and is obvious that the doctrine of private property is not biblical. So the ones who wanted to reform the church, separate it from the state and translate the Bible into vernacular languages so that everyone could read it came to be treated as heretics and rabble-rousers.

Third is nonracialism. This means that (as symbolised on the flag) the two races will come together and go forward. Nelson Mandela famously said that he had fought the oppression of blacks and would also fight the oppression of whites.

I am impressed with the latest policy thrust of the DA which calls for each and every organisation – companies, churches and political parties – to adopt a diversity clause in their Constitution.

The jury is still out on whether BEE has helped or hindered the economy. One thing is clear, that affirmative action in any other country exists to protect minorities. So why is it needed to protect the racial group that is by far the majority? This can be debated, but it serves to highlight the fact that tension between the races is still there. Of course it is related to land reform. And that goes deeper to the rule of law as we watch the Red Ants removing poor and unemployed blacks who have occupied unproductive land. Then they build fences around it to make a statement about the predominance of the rule of law!

Very honestly, I dislike the revenge factor of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) bid to remove Nelson Mandela Bay Metro Mayor Athol Trollip. Even less do I like the racial language that has been used to motivate it.

My tendency to side with the underdog makes me suspect that Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille is being sullied for reasons of race, but one thing I do admire – a party that will investigate and enforce an incumbent in office. The ANC has never done that, and now wants us to believe that it can and will assure the rule of law?

The EFF seems to be willing to trade off the rule of law for its land reform mantra. The DA has debated the betrayal of nonracialism in the EFF’s motion of no confidence.

By the time South Africans vote in 2019, they need to have come to terms with these three tectonic plates. Yes, they are represented in a way by the three parties – the ANC on the rule of law (such as cleaning up corruption and patronage), the EFF on land expropriation without compensation and the DA on the primacy of nonracialism.

But above all, let us vote for the tectonic plate that we want to preserve most. Which one must be solved first and foremost? That is what the electorate must determine, not just whether to wear yellow, red or blue T-shirts.

- Stephens is executive director at the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership

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Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  democracy  |  politics

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