NEWS & ANALYSIS

Ramaphosa: Saviour or ... ?

William Saunderson-Meyer asks whether the ANC President will destroy the constitution he helped create

JAUNDICED EYE

Will Ramaphosa destroy the very constitution he helped create?

When you are up to the neck in a steaming heap of ordure, the person who throws you a line is automatically, at first impression, a saviour. However, if the rescue rope is then secured with a slip-knot around the very same neck, that assumption is quickly shattered.

Such is the situation we find ourselves in with Deputy President Cyril Ramapaphosa. There is a palpable public excitement about the man most perceive as a knight in shining armour who will rescue the damsel in distress, South Africa. However, such national hopefulness, pretty much dormant since the Nelson Mandela years, will soon evaporate should our hero inadvertently skewer with his lance the heart of the maiden he is supposedly saving.

One firstly should not underestimate the challenges that Ramaphosa face, following his narrow victory last month to become president of the African National Congress and, likely, the next president of SA. For it truly is a monumental pile of excrement that we are in.

The years under President Jacob Zuma have hollowed out the country, leaving just the husk. We are a nation that is economically crippled and morally skint.

For the past decade the primary purpose of this government has not been the welfare of ordinary citizens, but the enrichment of criminal parasites. Our eventual recovery and redemption will demand much more than just excising Zuma and his Gupta cronies from public life.

Virtually every managerial level of the public service and of the many state-owned entities is overrun by corrupt and incompetent Zuma cadres.

These drones are entrenched and unrepentant. They will not be easy to budge from the feeding trough, especially since the “struggle veteran” generation, which actually did have an ideological commitment to serving the people, has pretty much been pushed out, or bailed out, of the most influential positions in the ANC hierarchy.

The party itself has moved from being a political organisation trying to implement a coherent ideology. It is now little more than an employment agency and a distribution hub for snaffled state assets.

And since the fiscus is running low, the focus is inevitably switching to ways of accessing the wealth of the private sector. Talk of a “wealth tax” has revived and delegates to the December conference committed the government to amending the constitution to allow the seizure of agricultural land, primarily white-owned, without compensation.

Ramaphosa promises that this will not be a “smash and grab” operation like that which impoverished Zimbabwe and that it will be done in a manner that would not endanger the economy, agricultural production, and food security. This week he told eNCA that South Africans had no need to be nervous.

“Land is a very broad, as well as a complex issue and it has to be handled very delicately, because there is quite a lot of emotion. The real issue, though, is that most of the redistributed land is lying derelict at the moment. It’s not being worked.”

It is true, as Ramaphosa says, that the failure of redistributed land to be productive is an important issue. So, too, is the fact that until now successful land claimants have had a choice between being compensated with alternative land or with cash, with most of them taking the money — so, bizarrely, many successful land claimants remain landless.

But the “real issue” is bigger. The real issue is that seizing the property of another person without compensation is a fundamental negation of human rights.

As black Zimbabweans eventually found out, a state that has licence to confiscate your neighbour’s property on the basis of race or ethnicity will soon enough progress to confiscating yours, despite sharing your race or ethnicity. Such is human acquisitiveness and greed.

And as the Institute of Race Relations points out, amending the property clause of the constitution affects all property, not just agricultural land. “Pressure would rapidly build from interest groups within the state and the ruling party to apply this to other sectors of the economy. This might take the form of expropriation of shares to satisfy empowerment goals… It is not inconceivable that culturally significant artworks or artefacts in private ownership might not also be targeted.”

Nor, for that matter, would there be anything to stop the state from seizing little parcels of privately owned land in the towns and cities. Just watch the widespread indifference of the urban commentariat to the fate of white commercial farmers quickly change, when their suburban homes become the targets of the expropriation-without-compensation machine.

It was in order to prevent a corrosively endless cycle of theft and retaliation that South Africans negotiated a constitution that has stood us in such good stead in bolstering the rule of law under onslaught from the Zupta axis. Ramaphosa was prominent in the establishment of that framework of rights and it would be tragic if he now became complicit in its erosion.

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