For Mboweni's growth plan to succeed the ANC has to give up certain dogmatic positions that were formulated when 7% growth was the status quo, writes Adriaan Basson.
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Community members from Middelburg, Mpumalanga, on the last day of Constitutional Review Committee's public hearings in the province. (Photo: Andrea Küsel)
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It's NOT the economy, stupid. Well, not entirely. This is
what white people need to understand about black people's hunger for land.
Black and white South Africans think differently about land.
That much is clear from the Constitutional Review Committee's public hearings
on amending Section 25 – the property clause – of the Constitution in the
Northern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, which I attended.
I recall only one white person, a woman, supporting
expropriation without compensation at the hearing in Welkom. White speaker
after white speaker, the majority of them male, spoke about land in economic
Each and every one lamented that expropriation without
compensation would have a dire effect on the economy and food security. Many of
the white speakers represented farmer's unions and producers' organisations.
To my surprise, a love for and a strong bond to the land
didn't feature strongly in the white farmers' presentations.
Black speaker after black speaker, the majority of them
male, spoke about a history of dispossession and how its effects – which
continue to this day – lead to a loss of dignity and economic exclusion. Many
viewed expropriation without compensation as a way to remedy this.
The difference here is that for black people land is not
just a commodity, a means to an economic end. My impression is that it is about
much more. It is about dignity, identity, a connection to the land of their
forebears. Yes, economics plays a part, but it is not the primary focus. It's
about much more. Also keep in mind that the majority of blacks in this country,
and I would guess the majority of those who participated in the hearings, are
still to a large extent excluded from the economy. Why would they want to
maintain a system that has only been screwing them?
Of course, in this capitalist society land cannot be
divorced from economics, it is a means of production as the Marxists would say.
It should form an integral part of the debate. But the vast majority of white
speakers' sole focus on the land issue in economic terms didn't help the larger
While several white speakers, especially those representing
farmers' bodies, acknowledged the injustices of the past, expressed a commitment
to land reform and some said, I believe honestly, that they want to see a
transformed agricultural sector and successful black farmers, I didn't get the
impression that there was much empathy with the plight of black people in
relation to land.
I know this is hard. As a white person I'll never understand
what it is like to be a descendant of a group of people whose culture, wealth,
sense of pride and dignity were decimated by years of forceful dispossession.
(As a white, Afrikaans person I do understand what it is like if much of your
heritage is based on a bunch of lies, but let's not get into that now.)
I do believe that if white people contribute to this debate
with more humility, an expression of sympathy to our black compatriots and a
sincere commitment to redress, it would blunt the sharpness of this divisive
debate and maybe, just maybe, create some common ground. Banging on about land
in economic terms doesn't do much to dispel the notion held by some of the more
militantly atavistic black speakers at the hearings that whites are
"settlers" wanting to live off the fat of the land at the expense of
the rest of the population.
While the only thing most people agreed on is that the ANC government's
land reform policies have failed since the dawn of democracy, the level of
focus on the economy wasn't the only racial fault line that reared its head in
the hearings. Whites typically spoke in individual terms – "I bought my
farm" – while blacks typically spoke in collective terms – "Our land
was stolen". There was also a much larger sense of history in black
people's submissions, while some whites wanted bygones to be bygones.
A white farmer went as far as to say you can't eat
historical arguments. Well, you can't eat continued injustice either.
- 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
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