The high expectations generated by the parliamentary motion of the ANC and EFF on the expropriation of land without compensation, are now resulting in the incitement of poor people to occupy land unlawfully. The EFF abuses these expectations by proffering that land grabbing is a quick fix for the problems the poor face. It is almost as if some really believe that owning a farm will turn you into a “rich boss” overnight.
However, reality has proved differently. In Zimbabwe seizing land from successful farmers led to major poverty, suffering and famine among black people, and in their distress thousands flocked to South Africa in search of jobs and food. The lesson taught by Zimbabwe is therefore that legislation that is driven by anti-white intentions ultimately can have anti-black consequences also. Naturally, the white farmers suffered immense losses but many were able to get back on their feet again elsewhere. The poverty and misery among black people caused by those land seizures was indescribable.
Thus it is not land that leads to prosperity but expertise. The Zimbabwean farmers who had lost their land had the expertise to start businesses in cities or in other countries. Without extensive know-how possession of land leads to poverty and suffering among humans and animals alike. Unemployment spikes, the National Treasury loses tax revenue and the population suffers famine as food becomes scarce and unaffordable. Thus, the land is not the farm; the farmer is the farm. The farm is in the farmer’s head, so to speak – it is all about his knowledge, experience and entrepreneurship.
The mistake the Malemas of this world make is to think that a farm consists of all that the eye can see: the land, the fields, the equipment and the implements, the buildings and the vehicles. That is why the EFF leader has said that the farmers who want to go to Australia must leave such things behind. However, that is not the case. Much of the real value of the farm lies in everything that is not visible: the farmer’s entrepreneurship, his agricultural knowledge, management ability, a network of experts in the value chain, perseverance and values.
Those qualities that cannot be seen by the eye, cannot be seized by means of nationalisation; are not bound by place, and can go wherever they need or want to. A farmer who goes to Australia takes his “farm” with him, even if he goes there with only the clothes he is wearing. No matter where he ends up, he will again be able to produce food in new lands because he carries his farm within him. On the other hand, the cadres who have seized his farm will end up empty-handed and without food because the farm is gone.
This misconception also applies to other matters such as universities and towns. Politicians may think that the expropriation of schools and universities, first by “transforming” (that is, getting rid of) the language and then by “transforming” (that is getting rid of) the speakers of the language, will give them ownership of knowledge “factories”, where people with a poor education will be turned into erudite intellectuals. However, in essence, a university is not what the eye sees, for example the buildings, top jobs and grand motorcars. A university is everything the eye cannot see: the intellectual capital accumulated over decades, research ability, teaching experience, academic culture, a pipeline of students coming from top schools and a formative student life that prepares young folk for the world of work.
When the University of Pretoria’s current Vice-Chancellor and Principal was appointed, Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma claimed triumphantly: “We have taken Tuks!” This is typical of the attitude by which so many institutions have been taken over. However, only time will tell whether the outcome of this type of takeover is anything but the start of a dead end.
The main reason for the inevitable failure of transformation lies in the fact that the wrong things are being “transformed”. Everything that is visible is being overthrown – whether it is the taking of the farmer’s farm or the Afrikaans community’s language or universities. On the other hand, the invisible farm or university is not even noticed, let alone developed or utilised. As those who have taken the farm or the university eventually realise that what they have taken and colonised no longer works, it leads to anger and disillusionment. That is why service delivery protests are taking place; why city halls are burning; why towns are being devastated in anger.
In this way, ironically, the “winners” become the losers and the losers the winners. Those who occupy farms, towns or universities may initially think they have won, but soon find that they have really lost – as Zimbabwe has proven. On the other hand the “losers” almost always find a way out, as the emergence of excellent private hospitals and schools, private estates, private security services and institutions such as Sol-Tech and Akademia have shown.
For this reason, the almost fanatical repetition of failed recipes remains a strange phenomenon. History has shown time and again that politically popular yet economically unfeasible plans are always to the disadvantage of those who ostensibly ought to have benefitted from them, and they often lead to those who ought to have been impaired by such plans being better off.
While the transition phase brings unimaginable destruction, damage and disadvantage those communities that subscribe to successful values cannot be suppressed in the end. They will just rise again, and again.
Flip Buys is chairman of the Solidarity Movement.