On Wednesday the ANC, in the form of the always-interesting, complicated and usually jovial Gwede Mantashe, explained its view on the state of things. Technically, it was a report back on the National Executive Committee Lekgotla, intended to focus on policy, and provide guidance for the Cabinet Lekgotla, which will then see a final expression in the State of the Nation Address. In reality, of course, it was really a chance to find out what the party thinks regarding issues like the xenophobic attacks on foreign-owned shops, land ownership, and Eskom. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The biggest rumblings from us, the grumparati, at present (you’ve used that word before – Ed) tend to revolve around load-shedding. It is almost the definition of middle-class to have electricity. Or to moan about it when you don’t. The NEC’s statement talks about government making an “impactful intervention” in the power crisis. And says that it wants Eskom to get Medupi and Kusile and the other “still-under-construction” station at Ingula on stream.
When asked how exactly Eskom is supposed to make this happen, considering that it’s going to take more than just bright ideas to produce a power station, Mantashe says he wants government to be “closer” to the process. In other words, government should be playing more of a role in what is, surely, a crisis. Which does lead one to wonder if one has ever heard the voice of our Energy Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, on this issue. (Nope, me neither.)
Of course, the causes of this crisis fall on political terrain for Mantashe. Earlier this month, President Zuma blamed “Apartheid” for the lack of power now. Mantashe, as usual, is more nuanced. He says the minority regime did focus on five million homes, and that since 1994, seven million more homes have been connected to the grid. But he did concede that “more should have been done to develop power supply”. And thus, rather nicely, he got around that pesky problem of the 1998 White Paper that predicted we would run out of power by the end of 2007. Certainly, in typical Mantashian style, he has managed to sound consistent with Zuma, without sounding like he didn’t understand the issue at all. But of course he forgets, conveniently, that much of Soweto was electrified during the 1980s. And that the real issue is not so much residential demand as it is industrial demand.
Normally, during such a fundamental crisis facing the country, electricity issues would dominate the public discussion after a press conference like this. But instead, it was the new/old/recycled/still-to-be-decided proposals on land ownership. It’s important to note that discussions within the ANC about changing laws regarding land ownership have been around for pretty much as long as the ANC. And they tend to go away and come back again.
On Wednesday, Mantashe said the NEC had “resolved” to stop the foreign ownership of land, and limit the local ownership to 12,000 ha on a total of two farms. While the foreign ownership decision may sound simple, in reality it is not. What is the legal definition of “foreign” here? Is it someone who just has a house here? Or someone who actually lives here as a permanent resident? Does “foreign” include, say, those with the surname “Gupta”?
And that’s before we even define “land ownership”. What is land? Half of Paarl? Or a lock-up-and-go in the Tuscan Enclave of Forwegia?
Questions to get clarity on this were, quite frankly, not answered. And answered they must be. It is simply unacceptable to suggest that what up until now have been considered land rights by thousands of people are just waved around in the air by one of the most powerful people in the country, with no clarity on what exactly is meant. Surely the NEC actually has a view? And if it doesn’t, is that because it is simply split on the issue?
Mantashe does say that because of the complexities of this issue, it is desirable for government to take any legislation to the Constitutional Court, before passing it into law, rather than have someone else challenge it later. Good; there should be more of that. But still, we have a distinct lack of clarity on what is actually being proposed. It is also hard to know whether there is really any more political will behind this attempt to change our land laws than there has been in the past. The lack of clarity itself may be the answer to that question.
However, there is a particular context to this. The Economic Freedom Fighters have made land a central issue (you could argue that they have made it the only real issue – Ed) of their platform. Maybe this is a bid to head them off. Or perhaps even a first stab at the ANC and the EFF working together in some way – Mantashe’s pointed reference to the constitutionality of the issue could have been a call for the EFF to work with them to change the Constitution. Or it could have been a smokescreen to steal the EFF’s thunder and nothing else.
On that issue, Mantashe claims they’re not worried about the EFF and the State of the Nation. It’s up to “Parliament to decide” he says. Spoken like someone with a rather large majority at his back.
If there is a moment where things start to get a little complicated among us all, it’s about the attacks on foreign-owned shops in Soweto. The ANC can be a little confused there. Generally speaking, it will always condemn violence. It will also say that attacks on foreigners are wrong, and remind everyone that many people in Africa helped the ANC during the Struggle. But just recently, there have been some odd murmurings on the issue. On Tuesday, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu was quoted by Business Day as suggesting that foreign shop-owners should share their tricks of the trade with local shop-owners. She added that “foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost”. On Wednesday she said her point was really that foreigners can’t just run shops; they should properly integrate with the community in which they operate.
Mantashe had much more to say on the subject. He says it’s interesting that people who come here with interesting accents from Europe are not the ones being chased. He says that fact is proof that this is really “Afro-phobia… which reflects a hatred of our own. Our people need to be educated that in South Africa, we are a part of Africa.”
There are many views on what really happened last week. Certainly there is a prejudice of some sort. But whether the Somalians were targeted because they were ‘African’ or ‘Somalian’ or just because they were ‘not one of us’ is hard to say. What is becoming clearer is that the ANC’s view on this is becoming more nuanced, and possibly slightly concerning.
What was certainly missing was the ringing condemnation not just of the violence, but of any kind of prejudice. Perhaps, given the opportunity, Mantashe and Zulu might add that condemnation next time.
At his inauguration last year, Zuma promised that there would be “radical change”. It was an echo of previous comments by both himself and previous presidents. It’s hard to see where that radical change is. Where ‘radical change’ is promised in policy, it’s hard to see where it’s being implemented. This would seem to indicate both that the ANC is now ‘the establishment’, and that radical change is tough. It can’t be done without unity. And at the moment, one might wonder if it can be done at all. DM
Photo: ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, during the 53rd ANC National Conference held in Mangaung, South Africa, 16 December 2012. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK