Barack Obama epitomised the best of the tributes to Nelson Mandela on his 100th birthday. His message was full of wisdom and warmth; one feels sure that many South Africans, especially young people, were inspired by the American’s words, worthy of Madiba and his legacy to our country.
What a pity it is that others were not as successful – or as truthful – as President Obama. Our president, Cyril Ramaphosa, had the following to say: “Land expropriation without compensation is one of the key programmes that will take forward former president Nelson Mandela’s vision of a free South Africa.” Notably, President Ramaphosa was joined in this call by Jacob Zuma.
Most people know President Zuma and do not expect a great deal from him, but some must have been shocked at the unblushing misrepresentation of the Mandela position by President Ramaphosa. Those of us who sat in the Constitutional Assembly more than twenty years ago under the chairpersonship of Cyril Ramaphosa know that President Mandela believed no such thing. Nor did Mr Ramaphosa. He now says, “The process of expropriating land without compensation (EWC) would lead to enhancing the growth of South Africa and increase agricultural production and food security.”
The Constitution provides in Clause 25 for land redistribution (certainly that had the support of all of us, including President Mandela and Mr Ramaphosa). It also provided for expropriation for public purposes against payment of “fair and equitable” compensation. Implicit in that is the idea that if it was fair and equitable, then EWC would be within the terms of the Constitution. Mr Ramaphosa has yet to explain at what point expropriation without compensation becomes fair and equitable and ceases to be theft.
If this is what President Mandela wanted and stood for, why was this position not at least put to us as the position of the ANC? Why did Chairman Ramaphosa not insist on this when he was the master of the process, with some negotiators eating out of his hand?
The president must explain which land will be targeted for EWC. Only land that was stolen by White people from Black people? Land that was stolen from Black people by other Black people?
And he must also explain how it is that EWC will enhance food production and “unleash enormous growth in our economy.” There is scarcely an area of government that the ANC has run successfully and it is fair to wonder where this projected success will come from.
Sadly, a glaring failure of the ANC, falling far short of Madiba’s vision, is land reform. Because of corruption, policy uncertainty, incapacity in the department of Land Affairs, too small an annual budget, and far too little support to new farmers, most of the land handed over as part of the land transformation process has deteriorated, with farms stripped of items of value, producing little other than a few mealies and a cow or two.
More than three quarters of such farms have been reduced to ruination, making land reform a dismal failure. What measures is President Ramaphosa taking to ensure that the land subject to EWC will suddenly blossom, producing food and “unleashing enormous growth”? Pie in the sky, Mr President. Politician’s promises, aimed at poor people, with nothing, being made to believe that they will become land owners and successful farmers in the wink of an eye.
Before trying to persuade us of the hitherto hidden views of President Mandela, Mr Ramaphosa ought to ponder whether South African EWC will turn out to be much different to the Zimbabwean and Venezuelan experiences. Mugabe turned the breadbasket of Africa into a country dependent on World Food Aid to feed its own people. The Venezuelan experiment, admired by Julius Malema, was no different.
Mr Ramaphosa should read the recent article by Dr Anthea Jeffery of the Institute of Race Relations about the expropriation of “idle land” in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and his successor, President Maduro.
In the mid-1980s, Venezuela, with its major oil and mineral wealth, had a per-capita GDP similar to Norway’s and was the richest country in Latin America. By 2017, however, more than 80% of its people were living in poverty. In 2018 its annual inflation rate is expected to top 1 000 000 per cent.
The redistribution of land to small farmers (who were not given title) did not result in an increase in food production. According to the National Confederacy of Agriculture and Livestock Associations, agricultural production dropped sharply between 2007 and 2011: maize by 40%, rice by 39%, sorghum by 83%, sugar cane by 37%, coffee by 47%, potatoes by 64%, tomatoes by 34%, and onions by 25%. Large quantities of fertile land fell out of production, while food imports rose.
Significantly, Mr Trevor Manuel, South Africa’s former and most successful finance minister, roped in to help obtain foreign direct investment, sounded surprised when he stated recently that it had proved far more difficult than expected to explain the ANC policy of EWC. He added that in any event, the focus should be on urban land, not rural land. This is exactly the advice that the president is ignoring. It is not clear why because this is the sensible and absolutely obvious course that is guaranteed to succeed.
Seven and a half million urban dwellers could be given title to the land they occupy, unleashing the growth and the prosperity we all want, while a proper and determined effort is made to redistribute land in the rural areas on a fair and equitable basis, with title to the new farmers, and the help they need to succeed in the business of farming.
Surely that would be much more in line with Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa than the current vision of President Ramaphosa and his party.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.
This article first appeared in The Star.