DOCUMENTS

Let's stop giving Ramaphosa the benefit of the doubt

John Kane-Berman says President's rhetoric has only served to inflame the land issue

Ramaphosa's wake-up call on land to slumbering analysts

Ever since Cyril Ramaphosa became president of the African National Congress and spoke on expropriation without compensation (EWC), the weight of published opinion among journalists and economic and investment analysts has been that his statements have been mainly tactical positioning to help him consolidate his leadership and win the next election. He can then, so we are told, rget on with all the "structural reforms" for which he will by then supposedly have obtained a "mandate".

In the view of these commentators, Mr Ramaphosa has "no choice but to pursue expropriation without compensation". His statements are "a symptom of political manoeuvring [rather than] a genuine policy shift". He is merely executing a "populist feint". He is just "kicking for touch" and his pronouncements are simply a "handy election issue" after which "other priorities will take over".

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has been almost alone in questioning this soothing analysis. In the first place, the analysis ignores the possibility that the promises of EWC arise from Mr Ramaphosa's oft-stated commitment to his party's policy of bringing about a national democratic revolution. Secondly, the analysis ignores the extent to which Mr Ramaphosa has himself helped to fuel demands for EWC.  

He has thus described the Land Acts as "the original colonial sin" of "violent dispossession". EWC does not count as "taking land from people" since it is "merely restoring land to its original owners". Mr Ramaphosa has also claimed that EWC is urgently required because black Africans own only 4% of individual farms in the country. To choose the lowest of several estimates and ignore the others is to add fuel to the flames, not to pour oil on troubled waters.

The outcome has been predictable. As Mr Ramaphosa said in his televised broadcast last week, "It has become patently clear that our people want the Constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation, as demonstrated in the public hearings". The claim by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that this announcement amounts to "capitulation to the demands of the people" is only half true. Mr Ramaphosa has helped to inflame those demands, no doubt to further the "long game" at which the analysts tell us he is so adept.  

Mr Ramaphosa has also stated that "we will not allow smash-and-grab". But he cannot be surprised if land invasions have been escalating in response to his own inflammatory talk.

Some analysts think that Mr Ramaphosa can win the 2019 election on the basis of EWC promises which he will then quietly forget as he puts the genie back into the bottle. This is wishful thinking. What do they expect him to say: "Sorry, comrades, I didn't really mean it, but thanks for your support anyway"?

The election is now less than a year away. Mr Ramaphosa has started to clean up state-owned enterprises. But the only thing for which he has sought a mandate is EWC. Other issues get only never-ending platitudes – repeated last week – about moving "with urgency" to develop a stimulus package to ignite growth and create jobs.

Equally meaningless are his other promises – increased public investment, support for entrepreneurship, and training for unemployed youth. Talk of generating $100 billion in investment is also meaningless unless he itemises what policy steps he will take to make it possible. So far the only step he has taken that will affect investment is the spoiling one of promising to legislate for EWC even before the parliamentary enquiry has done its work.  

As for promised "social compacts" and "investment conferences" they will be little more than talk shops unless President Ramaphosa uses them as platforms to market and drive the policies necessary to "ignite growth". But he has said nothing to show that he knows what to do to "ignite growth", let alone stimulate "the creation of jobs". Nor has he given any sign of the courageous leadership which policy change requires. It is time for the commentariat to stop giving him the benefit of the doubt and start subjecting him to greater critical scrutiny.            

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.