In a political playing field as contested and filled with as many agendas and subtexts as our own, there is very little we agree on. So, the things we do agree on need to be protected. And the one thing everyone agrees is a Very Good Thing is our Constitution. It’s the founding document, the basis of our liberty and all that stuff. But, as we know, it’s also like the old joke about the Professional Soccer League fixture list. It’s a starting point for negotiations. So, when one someone involved in actually drawing up the document accuses us of having “a false common wisdom”, it’s time to sit up and take notice. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
We don’t much hear from Valli Moosa nowadays. For the younger among us, he’s someone who has something to do with Eskom. For those with longer memories, he was a minister in Mandela’s Cabinet. Constitutional development or what-what. (It was during those years that your then spotty and long-haired correspondent interviewed him for a campus radio station. If he says he remembers, he’s just being nice.) But even before that, Moosa was one of the negotiators, one of Cyril’s men, who worked on the Constitution. In other words, he’s one of the select few who were there, not just following it on the SAUK of the time, but actually in the room.
And he has now suggested that it is incorrect to claim that the Constitution was the result of compromises on the part of the ANC. A “false common wisdom” to be precise, particularly in relation the provinces but also when it comes to property rights.
But before explore we why Moosa’s statement is important, we need to examine the context in which he aired it.
It was at a legal conference on the Constitution that took place at the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape last weekend.
One can almost imagine the organisers coming up with a list of local speakers: “Hey, let’s get someone who was there… Ja, like Ramaphosa… Oh, no, wait, he’s probably busy, buying a bull or something… How about FW? No, could send the wrong message… Tony Leon? Hmm, not really a player, then.”
They settled on Moosa. During a discussion at the conference, another participant had suggested that the ANC hadn’t really wanted provinces and that it had been a compromise position by the party to keep negotiations moving.
Moosa disagreed with the statement, adding that the ANC had, on principle, not made any concessions during the negotiations. He repeated the claim in a follow-up interview with EWN [Stephen, what is it with you and EWN? Do you work for them as well or something? – Ed]. And when pushed, extended his point to include the property clause in the Constitution.
South Africa, said Moosa, was too big a country to administer from one area. There would have to be regions, or provinces, and it didn’t matter whether it was four, or five, or nine.
But his explanation of the ANC’s position on the property clause is much more interesting. Moosa says while the ANC was a multi-class organisation, its primary reason for existence had always been to help black people. And black people had been dispossessed through a series of land-grabs over hundreds of years without compensation.
When it came to the question of property the ANC, he said, wanted to ensure that people would not be dispossessed of their land arbitrarily and without compensation in the future.
Now let’s just halt here for a moment and unpack this.
For some time now there have been claims from various quarters that the only reason the property clause ended up in the Constitution was because FW and Co. dug in their heels. End Apartheid, sure. But take away our swimming pools? Not a bladdy chance!
The balance of power at the time was in the Nats’ favour. They ruled with an iron fist, controlled the army, the police and the media. The ANC, on the other hand, had only the power of justice and some help from the outside world.
It was fairly reasonable that most of us were led to believe and understand that this is indeed what happened. Truth be told, your now receding hair-lined correspondent believed this too. It all made sense because in some way it explained the now; that white people are still richer than black people and that often, in many parts of the country, the only thing that has changed is that black people get to stand in a queue and vote every few years, should they chose to.
The idea that the property clause was a Nat-inspired compromise has also underpinned the thinking of Julius Malema and his merry men. And by ‘merry men’, we mean some factions within the SACP, or even Cosatu, come to think of it.
These are people who use the phrase “historic compromise” when it comes to Codesa. Their point is often that the Revolution is still unfinished. That the Constitution was really a halfway point in that journey. That the ANC would never have agreed to it but also had duty to bring peace and end the violence that sometimes appeared almost out of control.
It’s a compelling argument that has powerful resonances with many.
But Moosa’s point, from someone who was there, is that this claim is in incorrect and that the real long-term goal was to protect people’s right to own property. Without that right, we would never be a true democracy.
It’s a powerful counterpoint to many of the contemporary arguments. Unfortunately for Moosa, the response from people like the EFF, once they have got their red berets back on straight with a slight tilt to the left, would be “that’s all well and good except that black people still don’t really own property that can be dispossessed arbitrarily and most of the big landowners are still white”.
Be all of that as it may, Moosa’s original point must still stand. The Constitution, he says, was not a compromise by the ANC. It was not something the party agreed to just because of the threat of violence or because it needed to give in to some point. It was a position the ANC agreed to whole-heartedly. Something it believed in.
Whether it still does, of course, is an entirely different conversation, and an ongoing one at that. DM
Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.
Photo: Valli Moosa is seen outside Albertina Sisulu’s home in Linden, Johannesburg, Friday, 3 June 2011. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
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