ANC re­mains lost in trans­for­ma­tion de­spite its ex­pro­pri­a­tion res­o­lu­tion

Me­dia cov­er­age is dom­i­nated by mid­dle class, and con­cerns of peo­ple at grass­roots are of­ten ig­nored, which is why a pro­posed change to limit tra­di­tional lead­ers’ power over land went un­no­ticed, writes

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WHEN me­dia cover a po­lit­i­cal party con­fer­ence de­ci­sion, it is best to re­port on the en­tire res­o­lu­tion, not just the ex­cit­ing bits. This may re­duce the au­di­ence but will im­prove ac­cu­racy.

The point seems to have been for­got­ten in re­port­ing on a res­o­lu­tion on land ex­pro­pri­a­tion passed at the De­cem­ber con­fer­ence of the gov­ern­ing party.

Me­dia an­nounced that the ANC endorsed chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low the gov­ern­ment to ex­pro­pri­ate land with­out com­pen­sa­tion. This, along with a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the “na­tion­al­i­sa­tion” of the SA Re­serve Bank and one urg­ing the gov­ern­ment to speed­ily im­ple­ment an an­nounce­ment by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma that chil­dren of poor fam­i­lies would re­ceive free higher ed­u­ca­tion, were widely quoted as ev­i­dence that the ANC had em­braced eco­nomic rad­i­cal­ism.

But a closer look at the de­tails of the land res­o­lu­tion and the con­text of the other two show that the most rad­i­cal de­ci­sion adopted by the con­fer­ence were not these but one that has been largely ig­nored – a pro­posal which would give greater power over land to ru­ral peo­ple, not tra­di­tional lead­ers.

Re­port­ing on the land ex­pro­pri­a­tion de­ci­sion men­tions only half of the res­o­lu­tion. The ANC has endorsed the change, but, ac­cord­ing to the chair of its eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion com­mit­tee, Enoch Godong­wana, only if two con­di­tions are met. It must not threaten food se­cu­rity or im­pact on the rest of the econ­omy.

This al­most cer­tainly means that the res­o­lu­tion means the op­po­site of what is re­ported – in ef­fect, it re­jected chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

Whether chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion would dam­age food se­cu­rity is a mat­ter of opin­ion. But, since there is no short­age of voices in­sist­ing that it would, the con­di­tion pro­vides a handy es­cape hatch for a gov­ern­ment which does not want to make the change.

The sec­ond con­di­tion is the clincher. It is im­pos­si­ble to al­low for land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion with­out af­fect­ing the rest of the econ­omy. A mea­sure which al­ters prop­erty rights in one sec­tor sends a mes­sage that oth­ers may be due for the same fate.

Even if only some in­vestors came to this con­clu­sion – and the chances are that just about all will – the econ­omy will be af­fected. So, to say the change will be in­tro­duced only if the econ­omy is un­af­fected is to say it won’t hap­pen.

Po­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties ex­plain why the res­o­lu­tion was phrased in this way. One ANC fac­tion wanted the con­sti­tu­tional change, the other did not. But the scep­tics knew of wide­spread anger in­side the ANC (and out­side it) at the slow pace of land re­form. In­sist­ing that there was no need for a change would not have been cred­i­ble – it would mean be­ing seen to agree that whites should hold on to most of the pro­duc­tive land.

The only way out for the op­po­nents was to agree on the prin­ci­ple but to hedge it with con­di­tions which can’t be seen to en­dorse white priv­i­lege. The fact that they suc­ceeded in in­clud­ing the con­di­tions sug­gests that they are strong enough to pre­vent the change.

Sim­i­lar re­al­i­ties shaped the de­ci­sion to en­dorse “na­tion­al­is­ing” the cen­tral bank. This would not af­fect its man­date or in­de­pen­dence. It would sim­ply end a quirk – that South Africa’s cen­tral bank is owned by pri­vate share­hold­ers. The change would be en­tirely sym­bolic.

In a cli­mate in which there is wide­spread un­hap­pi­ness with con­tin­ued black eco­nomic ex­clu­sion, agree­ing to a change which would change noth­ing was an ob­vi­ous re­sponse. This is par­tic­u­larly so be­cause the change is un­likely to hap­pen any­time soon.

In pri­vate dis­cus­sions, ANC eco­nomic pol­i­cy­mak­ers note that the money needed to buy out the pri­vate share­hold­ers of the Re­serve Bank is not avail­able. And so this may be one of many gov­ern­ing party res­o­lu­tions – in all democ­ra­cies – which are never im­ple­mented be­cause they pose prac­ti­cal dif­fi­cul­ties.

The ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion change may be im­ple­mented, at least for a year. It has proved hugely con­tro­ver­sial and may cre­ate headaches for uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges be­cause it has not been care­fully costed and planned. But it is no change to ANC or gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

Zuma’s an­nounce­ment is re­peat­edly de­scribed as an agree­ment to free higher ed­u­ca­tion, but it isn’t. It doesn’t ap­ply to all stu­dents – only to those who are “poor and work­ing class” – any­one whose house­hold in­come is be­low R350 000 a year.

That stu­dents who can­not af­ford higher ed­u­ca­tion should not pay for it is al­ready gov­ern­ment and ANC pol­icy, which is why the con­fer­ence did not see a need to en­dorse the an­nounce­ment – it sim­ply urged that it be im­ple­mented quickly. It is also ac­cepted by just about ev­ery­one con­cerned about fair­ness in ed­u­ca­tion. It is very different to the de­mand that all higher ed­u­ca­tion be free, as those who can af­ford to pay will still be charged fees.

It is not clear whether prac­ti­cal­i­ties will al­low Zuma’s an­nounce­ment to be im­ple­mented in full. But, even if it is, this is no shift to the left.

So the ANC has not emerged from the con­fer­ence as a more “rad­i­cal” party. Its eco­nomic pol­icy res­o­lu­tions re­main within the frame­work which has gov­erned its think­ing for years.

This does not mean it will leave the econ­omy un­touched: there is agree­ment across the fac­tions that change which in­cludes more peo­ple is es­sen­tial. But it does mean that change will be ne­go­ti­ated and will re­spect per­ceived re­al­i­ties in the mar­ket­place.

What of the change vir­tu­ally no one no­ticed? Me­dia cov­er­age and de­bate re­mains dom­i­nated by the mid­dle class, and so the con­cerns of peo­ple at the grass­roots are al­most al­ways ig­nored. This ex­plains why a pro­posed change that would limit the power of tra­di­tional lead­ers over land passed largely un­no­ticed.

Ac­cord­ing to an ANC brief­ing at the con­fer­ence, it de­cided that con­trol over land should rest with com­mu­ni­ties, not chiefs. In prin­ci­ple, this should en­able ru­ral peo­ple to stop tra­di­tional lead­ers us­ing land for their own pur­poses at their ex­pense, which has brought “state cap­ture” to the coun­try­side and has trig­gered con­flict.

The res­o­lu­tion may prove hard to im­ple­ment be­cause it may be dif­fi­cult for ru­ral peo­ple to hold tra­di­tional lead­ers to ac­count. And, like all con­fer­ence res­o­lu­tions, it may never be­come law be­cause tra­di­tional lead­ers may lobby against it.

But, if it did be­come law, it may make far more dif­fer­ence to far more peo­ple than the “rad­i­cal” res­o­lu­tions which have hogged print and broad­cast head­lines. – The Con­ver­sa­tion Steven Fried­man is Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Johannesburg

CO­NUN­DRUM: It’s im­pos­si­ble to al­low for land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion with­out af­fect­ing the rest of the econ­omy, the au­thor says of the ANC’s bold ex­pro­pri­a­tion res­o­lu­tion taken at its elec­tive con­fer­ence last month.

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