The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Back in the Wild West days of the United States econ­omy – when rob­ber barons still ruled and farm­ers and small busi­nesses were be­ing re­lent­lessly gouged by ruth­less mo­nop­o­lies – a rab­ble-rouser and friend of the peo­ple nearly be­came pres­i­dent. In a mes­meris­ing speech while run­ning to be the Demo­cratic Party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee in 1896, Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan de­cried the ac­tions of the fi­nan­cial elites he be­lieved were ru­in­ing the lives of the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion for their own selfish ends: “You shall not cru­cify mankind upon a cross of gold.” It was a turn­ing point not just for the Democrats. It also helped to create space for Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt to fight his own Repub­li­can Party and drive through the trust-bust­ing re­forms that led to the ‘Pro­gres­sive Age’. Bet­ter the devil you know than the true rev­o­lu­tion­ary… So is it pos­si­ble that the chaotic South African pol­i­tics of the day may ac­tu­ally be push­ing in the right di­rec­tion for land re­form? The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies are mak­ing speeches again: Julius Malema and the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters (EFF) have made it a cause célèbre. “We re­main a con­quered na­tion be­cause white monopoly cap­i­tal still owns the means of pro­duc­tion, and at the cen­tre of that is the land ques­tion,” Malema said dur­ing a par­lia­men­tary de­bate in 2017. That was the year when the EFF drove the land re­form ques­tion into the front­line of South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape, tak­ing ad­van­tage of Ja­cob Zuma’s deep un­pop­u­lar­ity. “Peo­ple of South Africa, where you see a beau­ti­ful land, take it, it be­longs to you,” Malema added. On the other side of the de­bate lies the Demo­cratic Al­liance (DA): his­tor­i­cally white and sym­pa­thetic to – and funded by – the land-own­ing class. The DA has been stead­fast in its op­po­si­tion to any idea that land should be taken with­out proper com­pen­sa­tion. Its case is not helped by fringe group Afrifo­rum, whose hys­ter­i­cal ap­peals for help over what they call a ‘white geno­cide’ are in poor taste given the gen­er­a­tions of black men and women press-ganged to work for a cup of wine on white farms. This de­bate has now come to the boil – helped by a very pub­lic and very un­in­formed Septem­ber in­ter­ven­tion by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who in­structed his vice-pres­i­dent to look into the is­sue of land seizures and farm at­tacks. But, per­haps, this has given Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa the space to act. His first move was in July – propos­ing an amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion to al­low land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion. But, in what is be­com­ing Ramaphosa’s trade­mark, it will go through a process that tries to keep all par­ties on board. In a re­cent opin­ion col­umn, Ramaphosa said that the amend­ment would ‘pro­hibit the ar­bi­trary de­pri­va­tion of prop­erty’. Crit­ics will say that this is Bill Clin­ton-style tr iangu la­tion, po­si­tion­ing on an is­sue that sucks the oxy­gen out of your op­po­si­tion. But oth­ers say that, for a change, se­ri­ous voices have en­tered the con­ver­sa­tion. Pro­fes­sor Ruth Hall, for ex­am­ple, has been ap­pointed by Ramaphosa to the ad­vi­sory panel on land re­form. If any­one can trans­plant the pi­o­neer­ing ideas of the late, great Sam Moyo on deep but sen­si­ble land re­form in Zim­babwe to the South African con­text, it is her. What is cer­tain is that land re­form in South Africa is not work­ing. The ma­jor­ity of land re­mains un­der white own­er­ship, and just 10% of the land owned by whites has been trans­ferred to black hands since the end of apartheid. And while the white pop­u­la­tion has re­mained sta­ble, the black pop­u­la­tion has grown quickly. Af­ter the Sec­ond World War in Ja­pan and South Korea, gov­ern­ments booted landed elites off the land. Rig­or­ous, lo­cally de­ter­mined land re­form handed out 3ha plots to mil­lions of fam­i­lies. The re­sult was the largest his­tor­i­cal boom in agri­cul­tural em­ploy­ment, and, over the next few decades, the cre­ation of a huge con­sumer class. Per­haps, while his­tory never really re­peats it­self, might it rhyme?

Is it pos­si­ble that the chaotic South African pol­i­tics of the day may ac­tu­ally be push­ing in the right di­rec­tion for land re­form?

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