Jan Gerber

Ramaphosa's biggest challenge yet: Managing the expropriation-genie

2018-08-14 12:05
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg in 2017.

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's national conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg in 2017.

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The expropriation without compensation-genie is out of the bottle, and it ain't going back. The ANC is going to have one hell of a tough time keeping the reins on this genie, much of its own doing.

I was watching in a guesthouse in Oudtshoorn two weeks ago when President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement was aired in the Zuma-hours on the public broadcaster.

"The ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected," Ramaphosa said.

I was perplexed, to say the least. The parliamentary process is still underway, which was the reason I found myself in Oudtshoorn, as the Joint Constitutional Review Committee's public hearing on amending Section 25 of the Constitution was to be held there the next day. It was the first of five hearings in the Western Cape. Did I spend those five hours on the road for nothing?

By making that announcement at that time, Ramaphosa basically told the people of the Western Cape: "Ain't nobody got time for this. Bye, Felicia."

That bit about "through the parliamentary process" also seems to indicate that the ANC still views its parliamentary caucus as nothing more than a very well-paid rubber stamp for whatever Luthuli House decides. Democratic centralism in action! ANC über alles! New dawn, for what?

Secondly, the ANC's stance up until that point was fairly reasonable, I thought.

Their plan was to explore if there are ways to implement expropriation without compensation without harming the economy, and in the meantime test expropriation under the current legislation to see if it is really necessary to amend the Constitution. The people who seem to know a bit about these things generally think it isn't necessary to amend the Constitution.

In the days since the announcement much has been written and said about it by the commentariat.  The one reason for Ramaphosa's announcement offered is that he had to appease the remnants of ol' Msholozi's RET-crowd still roaming the passages of Luthuli House like the ghosts of state capture's past. The second is that the ANC feels the need to out-populist the EFF in a race to the bottom ahead of next year's election.

Both make sense to me, and it got me thinking of something the American gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: "Politics is the art of controlling your environment."

To me, it seems like Ramaphosa's announcement was an attempt at controlling his environment. But is it art?

The thing is, the ANC, especially Ramaphosa's ANC, never was in control of the expropriation-environment in the first place, therefore they perhaps felt the need to attempt to wrest control from the EFF.

Expropriation without compensation never was an ANC thing. Its youth league played around with the idea, but it only became a proper part of the South African political discourse at the EFF's inception in 2013, who have since then pushed for it every chance they got. In February last year, the EFF brought a motion to amend the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation to the National Assembly. The ANC sent them packing, with possibly the only true communist in the South African Communist Party, Jeremy Cronin, raising some salient points against expropriation without compensation.

A few days later, a certain Mr Jacob Guptahlikise Zuma, back in those dark days still the inhabitant of Tuynhuys and the biggest office in the Union Buildings, called on the House of Traditional Leaders to support expropriation without compensation, basically contradicting, even repudiating, his own party's caucus. Not that his administration had a marked effect on land reform. The most notable land reform project during his tenure was the Estina-project, for all the wrong reasons.

Land expropriation never part of Ramaphosa's plan

Fast forward to the end of the year, at the ANC's conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg, and ANC MPs almost came to blows when discussing a resolution on expropriation without compensation, which was eventually adopted.

It is widely believed that this resolution was the work of the Zumaites at the conference, trying to get one over the Ramaphosaites who dusted them off in the leadership battle.

It never was part of Ramaphosa's "New Deal". (Did he pay royalties to Franklin D. Roosevelt's estate for the use of that term, or did he expropriate it without compensation?) So there he was, a freshly elected ANC-president, saddling an expropriation without compensation wild horse he didn't want to be on in the first place, off into the great unknown...

My impression was that the ANC would have dragged their feet on implementing this resolution. It wouldn't be the first time a conference resolution gathered dust. But, ever the opportunists, the EFF saw their gap once Parliament got going in February, still basking in the rays of the "New dawn", and brought a motion to amend the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation.

Unlike the year before, the ANC supported the motion, after making an amendment. They didn't have much of a choice, having adopted their resolution less than two months before, though the word in Parliament's hallways is that things would have gone down differently had ANC chief whip and staunch Ramaphosa-supporter Jackson Mthembu not been on leave at that time. Instead, Doris Dlakude, deputy chief whip who famously painted her nails while serving on the ad hoc committee that saw, heard or spoke no evil on JZ's Nkandla-shenanigans, rallied the ANC troops.

And thus, we found ourselves with a parliamentary process to investigate whether the Constitution should be amended to allow expropriation without compensation, which included public hearings.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I found the public process to be a national catharsis. It is an issue that will determine if this country will ever know peace and prosperity.

In the past month and a half, I've attended many of the hearings – in the Northern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape – and I can report that the ANC wasn't in the control of the narrative, it was the EFF.

So, I'm convinced the ANC and Ramaphosa aren't in control of the expropriation environment, and the announcement didn't help.

In fact, it made matters worse. It will be harder for Ramaphosa and the ANC to gain control of this environment, because it heightened already great expectations that things will change. Things might change, but it won't be soon.

Many people who addressed the Joint Constitutional Review Committee in support of amending the Constitution expressed great urgency, or rather impatience. They want the land, and they want it now. And who can blame them – 24 years into democracy, and the ANC government's failure with land reform is a national disgrace.

Process of land reform won't be over soon

Many of the people who expressed impatience also said things that indicate that they don't understand the constitutional and parliamentary process, or that they don't care much for it.

This is a problem for Ramaphosa and the ANC because the process isn’t going to be over any time soon. If done properly, definitely not before next year's elections.

The Joint Constitutional Review Committee must report back to Parliament by the end of September. If the committee recommends an amendment, and Parliament concurs, which isn't a given at this stage, the matter will be passed on to another committee, probably the Portfolio Committee on Justice, who will have to start a process of drafting the amendment. This would entail another public consultation process and gruelling deliberations about the form of this amendment, and it will take months. In all probability, further legislation would have to be passed to give effect to the constitutional amendment. This will also entail longwinded, but necessary, parliamentary processes. We're talking years.

Also, we don’t know at this moment how an ANC government will implement expropriation without compensation. What land? How will the beneficiaries be identified? What about them 4 000 farms the state already owns? The government, or rather Luthuli House, will have to find answers to these questions, and others. And they haven't manage to do this in the past 24 years…

This while we've already seen land occupations. Speaking at a Women's Day event Paarl on Thursday, Ramaphosa's speech was interrupted by people demanding land and a moratorium on farm evictions.

And the EFF won’t go quiet about this all of a sudden, they'll add fuel to the inferno.  

You don't need much of an imagination to see the lawyers of organisations opposing an amendment furiously pounding their MacBooks drafting legal heads, just waiting to file it as soon as the law isn’t followed to the letter, which will delay the process even further. I got the impression the ever-litigious alt-right movement AfriForum was gearing up for a legal challenge from the very start, even before Ramaphosa's announcement. Each and every representative of AfriForum who I heard at the hearings, complained about the process in which they were participating. But let's not get side-tracked by those shysters.

What I'm trying to say is: We're sitting on a ticking time bomb, and with his announcement, Ramaphosa did nothing to defuse it. Instead, he cut the wrong wire, accelerating the bomb.

It is not an alarmist statement saying that the country's future depends on how a just pattern of land ownership is achieved. It is not something to be used as a political football in a stupid game of political one-upmanship, as has been the case in recent years, and certainly last Tuesday evening.  

The correct move for the ANC and Ramaphosa would be to manage expectations to prevent serious unrest in the country. This would entail coming up with concrete, actionable plans and communicating it effectively to the citizenry, getting them on board. And then actually implementing it, all within the letter of the law.

Managing expectations is not the type of thing a political party likes to do so soon before an election. They would much rather make grandiose promises and come with wishy-washy proposals and excuses after the election. That's the easy way, and since it came into government, it has been the ANC way.

So it is difficult not being concerned and cynical.

- Jan Gerber is one of News24's parliamentary reporters. Back in the day, he did an MPhil in Political Management, with land reform as the topic of his thesis.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    anc  |  cyril rama­phosa  |  land  |  land expropriation  |  land reform
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