A convenient route to power, meddling with land expropriation will pay off — but only for politicians
History will record that it was on the very week of the fifth anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death — the tail end of yearlong activities marking his centenary — that parliament decided to begin the process to emasculate perhaps his most shining and enduring legacy: the South African Constitution. The timing was apposite.
To say MPs were dancing on Mandela’s grave is perhaps putting it too strongly, but the timing was almost unreal. The decision to fiddle with the constitution in order to allow for expropriation of land or property without any recourse to lawful means will be no simple or straightforward amendment. It almost feels like a violation of a sacred text. It is a momentous decision that’ll tinker with the very essence of society, and will fundamentally change the order of things.
Which is obviously what is intended, but where that takes us as a nation, nobody has a clue. Scary.
The adoption of the report by the joint constitutional review committee recommending the amendment of section 25 of the constitution was greeted by scenes of jubilation and bravado by victorious MPs. That’s probably understandable. The approval, though by no means the final say on the matter, is a culmination of a long-running campaign that has sharply divided society and, unfortunately, worsened race relations.
It included barefaced lies and emotive language aimed at discrediting the 1994 accord that ushered in the new dispensation. That settlement was rubbished as having sold black people down the river, and leaders such as Mandela and his comrades who were instrumental in negotiating its creation were dismissed as Uncle Toms or lackeys of white interests. Bell Pottinger, it seems, has been worth its weight in gold.
But the stuff that was peddled, though untrue, found fertile ground because, for the black majority the new democracy, other than giving them the right to vote, has yet to produce any meaningful benefits or improvement to their lives. Almost on every front — be it work, education, housing etcetera — their lot has largely deteriorated in the 24 years since liberation. Inequality has, in fact, increased.
If you’re a young black person wallowing in a township or out in the sticks with no prospect of education or work and therefore a prohibitively bleak future ahead of you, you’re more than likely to buy the lie from a sharp-suited politician that the reason you’re poor and destitute is that the leaders agreed to a constitution that allowed white people to keep the land they stole from your forefathers. What is therefore required is to change the constitution so that we can get our land back, and voila! everything will be hunky-dory. Why not? Who doesn’t want free things? That skills and capital are required in order to work the land before it can even begin to be productive barely enters the discussion. What he gets sold is obviously pie in the sky, and that, unfortunately, in our politics more often than not works like a charm.
But our youth are in such a predicament they hardly notice when they’re being sold a yarn. Rampant corruption and incompetent management of resources by our politicians are largely to blame for the dire situation in which we find ourselves. What’s even more tragic is that the politicians, the authors of our misery, are quick to exploit people’s misfortune. They benefit from the very mess they’ve created. It’s a vicious circle.
So in this almighty gamble with our future, there’ll likely be no downside for the parties driving the country headlong into a ditch. Politics is a risk-free enterprise. The EFF, especially, are entitled to crow. They’ve scored what they consider a magnificent victory and hope to reap rich rewards in next year’s elections. For this is primarily what it’s about: power. Nothing to do with the absolution of the wrongs of the past or rescuing people from poverty. The party has recognised that land expropriation is a convenient vehicle to more power. Since its inception, the EFF has campaigned on nothing else. The ANC has only recently decided to tag along, an elephant being led by an ant. Call it stupidity, hypocrisy, cowardice — they all fit the bill.
The hunger for land is real and genuine, and was rightfully recognised and provided for in the constitution. But the ANC has totally bungled the entire project. Land restitution has become a complete and utter fiasco. Large tracts of land lie fallow, unclaimed, or have ended up in the wrong hands, especially those of senior government officials. Corruption is rife. The constitutional amendment therefore will allow the ANC a way out of the mess it has created. A party that can hardly keep the lights on cannot be expected to carry out such a huge undertaking without botching it.
In a sense Cyril Ramaphosa has been lucky. He’s been given the sort of latitude that would never have been afforded Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had she been president. Because he’s regarded as somebody with business acumen, people seem to believe he would not have undertaken a policy that would be ruinous to the economy if he hadn’t figured it all out. They know his heart is not in it (he was bounced into it) but they hope he’ll somehow be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat.
On the land issue, the ANC under Ramaphosa seems to have farmed out its authority to the EFF the same way Jacob Zuma turned power over to the Guptas.
How this finally pans out, only time will tell. As the saying goes, we should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.