Real action on land needed to counter extreme EFF rhetoric

Julius Malema, leader of the EFF (Picture: Gallo Images)
Julius Malema, leader of the EFF (Picture: Gallo Images)

It is time for the high emotions around the land debate to subside so that a real debate can start to get to sustainable and lasting solutions to the urgent problem of the redistribution of agricultural and urban land.

Political opportunism and cheap populism surely played a role in forcing the crisis upon us now, but now that we are here, let's get to the bottom of a century old problem, the product of the "original sin".

White South Africans should try hard to understand that it is about much more than just reorganising ownership patterns. It is also about symbolism, history and inequality, and even, among some, a need to have the white minority "put in its place", to make them feel the pain the majority felt for so long.

There are many black citizens, especially among younger generations, who still yearn for the psychological release of a liberation moment that they feel 1994 did not deliver.

But we should all be honest about it that the ANC's present position on expropriation without compensation has a lot to do with next year's general election.

It is no secret that the Ramaphosa-ANC - because there are still two ANCs - still believes that the present Constitution provides enough room for expropriation without compensation, or very little compensation, when circumstances determine that. ANC speaker upon ANC speaker made this point when they opposed the EFF's expropriation motion in Parliament last year.

But Ramaphosa and his faction are playing along with the populists to steal the EFF's thunder until after the 2019 election.

It doesn't need sophisticated political analysis to understand that the EFF has lost the most lethal arrows in its bow: Jacob Zuma, the Guptas, state capture and corruption.

This happened at a time the EFF is pushing hard to make real electoral progress and break through the 10 percent barrier to at least 15 percent of the vote in next year's election so it can set itself up as a coalition partner to the ANC.

The EFF has now replaced Zuma and the Guptas with two new arrows they hope will be as lethal: land expropriation and anti-white sentiments. These are the drums it will be beating for the next year.

The ANC has indeed stolen much of the EFF's thunder when it embraced the EFF's parliamentary motion on land.

But the reality is that a critical issue such as the sanctity of ownership of property ensconced in the Constitution cannot reasonably be resolved without lengthy debates, in-depth research, workshops and summits, which probably means no final decision on a change in the Constitution will take place before next year's election.

The workshops and land summits will have to seriously and honestly consider the real research into the failures of the state since 1994 to effect real land reform, as articulated in the ANC's own think tank, Kgalema Motlanthe's High Level Panel that published its report in November last year.

The identified lack of state capacity, corruption and bureaucratic tardiness and incompetence cannot be ignored.

My feeling now is that the ideal result would be for Parliament to formulate a new and clear expropriation bill and to ask the Constitutional Court to test it against the Constitution as it stands.

But I think we could go much further than that and draw up ambitious and innovative plans that would not only bring justice, but would genuinely empower people without the negative unintended consequences of a blanket license to the state to take people's property away from them.

Unfortunately the EFF is hell-bent on thundering ahead with the most extreme race rhetoric I have ever heard in my lifetime – excluding the now defunct AWB, of course.

It is reckless to set up an entire population group as the common enemy of the black majority.

For Julius Malema to use language, as he did on the weekend, that whites should "go to hell" and that the EFF plans to "cut the throat of whiteness", complete with a finger across the throat, is not tolerable in any real democracy.

Malema got many cheers from his crowd with these cheap populist threats, but I'm not convinced that this is the kind of thing that would make his party grow beyond 10 percent. It's just too Mugabe-esque.

Whites, and other "non-blacks", to turn a nasty old term around, should find ways to not internalise this aggression and insults, because to hit back with their own insults and threats would just serve to reinforce Malema and his ilk's recklessness.

This column will probably be met with accusations of "white fragility" and attempts to protect white privilege, but there is no denying that it is in no-one's interest to push white feelings of being under imminent threat and unwanted over the edge.

I do think it would be very appropriate for Ramaphosa to pour oil on the waters in the next few days and utter a few words of reassurance. Our Constitution does, after all, state in its preamble that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity".

The danger of the ANC's strategy to steal the EFF's thunder and embrace land expropriation blindly, as it has mostly done so far, is that it raises expectations sharply, with the result that whatever orderly solution is eventually found, won't satisfy many people.

It is simply untrue that "giving the land back" would end all poverty, result in enormous black wealth and turn poor townships like Alexandra into model neighbourhoods with hospitals, good schools, shopping centres and business centres, as Malema promised on Sunday.

The people of Mozambique and Mali, for instance, are among the poorest in the world, yet almost all of them have access to land.

Hopefully the debate will soon calm down as we get into the business of working on real solutions with realistic contributions from all sides.

The national discourse will inevitably divert somewhat once the criminal charges against Zuma have been reinstated and the Zondo Inquiry into state capture and other corruption hearings start.

If we South Africans don't solve the land issue to the satisfaction of a majority of citizens during the current process, it will continue to haunt and destabilise us. It won't get better if we don't act decisively, it won't go away. It can only get worse.

Justice must be done. Historic wrongs must be reversed. I wish more white South Africans would embrace these truths and understand that it isn't only the right thing to do, it is also in their long-term interests.

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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