Banned by 9 major religions and counting
20 November 2017 19:25 (South Africa)
South Africa

TRAINSPOTTER: Landlocked — an interview with Julius Malema on Zuma, expropriation, and the pending revolution

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • South Africa
Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party leader Julius Malema arrives with supporters for a demonstration in Pretoria, South Africa, November 2, 2016. Picture taken November 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Land expropriation without compensation is the issue on which Julius Malema has premised his entire career. Now President Jacob Zuma, his arch nemesis, has initiated a move to grab land grabs as his own foundational policy position. Which is why Daily Maverick felt it was time for a one-on-one catch up with the Commander in Chief. By RICHARD POPLAK.

“The ANC is using land expropriation to just try and destabilize the EFF and make it irrelevant, because they think that the EFF has got a correct message. That’s what makes the EFF popular, particularly with the landless masses of our people. For the ANC, it’s just rhetoric. There’s no clear plan.”

These are the first words that Julius Sello Malema utters in the EFF’s Braamfontein headquarters, during the course of a lengthy one-on-one interview. The CiC is remarkably measured during these interlocutions, and speaks in unbroken soliloquies that contain few of his standard-issue inflammatory one-liners. (Think Titus Andronicus on Prozac). We sit at a battered boardroom table, with binders spread out neatly lengthwise. On the far wall, etched in stone (well, painted on the wall) are the EFF’s Seven Cardinal Pillars, the first of which reads, “Expropriation of land without compensation”. Even for those who have grown accustomed to ignoring the land thing—namely, the country’s economic and political elite—the issue has become the political fulcrum around which everything pivots.

Here is an axiom that will be learned the hard way in 2019: Answer the land question; Win the Country.

Jacob Zuma likely gets this, but his real objective is to tub-thump the EFF’s key policy ticket to such an extent that it drives wedge between his own faction and that of the stiff-shirted social democrats on the other side of the fence. Let’s just say that expropriation sans compensation induces heart palpitations in Cyril Ramaphosa’s buffaloes, to say nothing of what it does to cadres in the Treasury, and to the party’s Maybach-ensconced beneficiaries. 

Millions—tens of millions—of words have been expended on South Africa’s land question, much of them compelling, reams and reams of them very good. (The Freedom Charter is fairly unambiguous on the issue). But like every divisive, long-festering political matter, the literature tends to count for nothing in a pinch. We are, by any measure, in a pinch. So, for those keeping track of the Zuma’s recent feints, during last week’s address to National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament, the president demanded that the ANC amend Section 25 of the constitution and roll the whole land business into the party’s so-called “radical economic transformation” agenda. Three days earlier, the EFF had offered their 6 percent representation in Parliament as a means to achieve the same objective—a reunification project based around land. That poisoned chalice was politely declined by the ANC parliamentary caucus, but remained both poisoned, and a chalice. Which meant that Zuma had, in the words of DA president Mmusi Maimane, “gone rogue”, insofar as you can go rogue in a party comprised almost entirely of skelms. 

Malema professes to find Zuma’s newfound land jones somewhat perplexing. “How can you say you want to deal with the land issue, when your own mayors have anti-land invasion units, with a lot of money allocated to such units,” spat the Commander in Chief. “We are not in government, but we continue to give people land, and a place to call home.”

Wait, give people land? In the hurly-burly circus that is South Africa in the post-governance era, an opposition party finds itself able to hand out packages of real estate, like Pam Golding gone Oprah?

“Yes. Even some of these white fellows who are owning the land are so prepared to negotiate—‘Instead of taking the whole thing, you take this portion, I remain with this portion’. But there is absolutely no intention on behalf of the ANC to take the land and return to the hands of the people. Who is fighting us? It’s the ANC.”

But if Zuma’s land spiel feels ad hoc and cobbled together, has the EFF presented a means to plug expropriation into a capitalist, socialist, or any version of a functional economy. Scour the EFF literature, and is there any actual there there?

There is, insists Malema. “A government with the political will shall amend the constitution, and make the state a custodian of the land. That fact does not disrupt business, or capitalist industries that operate inside the economy. It’s just that everyone else will be re-issued with a permit to use the land, and a clear specification—if this is a mine, then this land will be used to mine. If this is a settlement, then this land will be used for settlement. And the rest of the idling land shall be allocated to those who need it, be it for farming, be it for mining, be it for industrialization, for clinics, for schools. So the state must be in a position to do these things for the people.”

In the meantime, the EFF’s policy is basically this: if the people need the land, and if they’ve demonstrated a desire to claim the land, then the land is theirs, and the party will help them secure it.

Land on which mining companies hold the license to mine, and on which they are not yet mining? “Use that land, or lose it,” said Malema, placing his hands on the table. The CiC does not appear to be ignorant of how the mining industry works, and understands well how investors must wait for commodity prices to rise before commencing massive, capital-intensive projects.

It’s just that he doesn’t give a shit.

“If you want a revolution, then you have to disrupt the current structures. If you are given a mining license, it will be on the condition that you’re mining that land now. If you can’t use it, we’ll give it to the people who are going to use it.”

There’s been lots of recent interest regarding what the government would call illegal mining, and what EFF would term small-scale or artisanal mining. New international best practices have been promulgated, and even the Economist has published an encomium. This is because mining rarely works for local communities, especially in developing nations—a fact that Malema takes as a given. “You say we are disrupting? No. Idle land leads to the perpetuation of poverty. We will take the land.”

And don’t for a second think that the revolutionaries are waiting for Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini to figure out where she parked her Chivas Regal (I’m kidding). In communities across the country, in crannies where corporate media simply doesn’t penetrate, land is expropriated—or stolen, as the authorities would have it—on a daily basis. The tactic is the same nearly every time: “squatters” move onto an empty stretch of veld, usually adjacent a township or informal settlement. They quickly erect structures, and appoint as a liaison the local EFF ward leader, who scrambles the lines between landowner, sheriff and the authorities. Sometimes, the Red Ants are sent in, and the people are cleared off the site. On most occasions, that option is deemed too messy, and the people stay put. The shacks take root, the GPS coordinates are plugged into the Google map app, and Bob (Mugabe) is your uncle.

According to Malema, a perfect example of this strategy can be found on the outskirts of Bela-Bela, Limpopo, where a large informal settlement is currently being wired into the service delivery mainframe by a cowed municipality. It’s by no means foolproof as far as expropriation policies go. But, as Malema makes clear, this has been going on for a very long time.

“This is how Orlando started! In fact, most black areas started like that!” he says. “With time, the authorities move in to settle people properly. This has been our life. It’s not something the EFF started originally. We found it there.”

All of which is to say: land is expropriated/knicked/re-gifted/occupied/invaded by the opposition every day; and the longer the phenomenon continues, the more it becomes entrenched as a social entitlement, much like the grant system the entire country is trying so desperately to rescue. These political performances, which have the added benefit of materially changing (if not improving) peoples’ lives, are hardening into a political culture. And nor do they adhere to partisan delineations.

“It’s very funny, and someone must go and study the situation in Ward 130, my ward,” said Malema, chuckling. “The ANC leaders in that branch participate in the land occupation. They go to EFF-convened meetings by the councilor there, where the land is being discussed, how we’re going to allocate, who qualifies to get the stand—no one with a stand must go and repeat himself. The ANC leaders are involved. And when is the day of the occupation, they are also there.”

So underneath the drive to kill land invasions is an ANC movement that supports land invasions?

Yup, says Malema.

Indeed, when Zuma blathers on about this stuff in parliament, he knows very well what he is doing: gather an army at the branch level, who will do his factions’ bidding come December at the national conference. Land, says Malema, will end up splitting the ANC. Which is where the EFF comes in with what will be significant gains in parliamentary representation, and a new coalition is born. 

Maybe. Regardless of his own party’s fortunes, Malema is bullish on the ANC’s future non-existence.

“It will crack,” he insists.

If that’s the case, then the Commander in Chief will have to take some of the blame, or some of the credit, depending on how you view these things. And while Malema and Company have a plan, it’s not quite a plan plan. Like any radical act of political parkour, the outcomes are impossible to anticipate. Under the land issue, chaos will bloom, and we’ll either flourish or wither in its shadow. DM

Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party leader Julius Malema arrives with supporters for a demonstration in Pretoria, South Africa, November 2, 2016. Picture taken November 2, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

  • Richard Poplak
    HEADSHOT_Rich-Poplak_orange.jpg
    Richard Poplak

    Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreal’s Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africa’s leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective.

    His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africa’s 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014).  Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada.

    Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continent’s 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift

  • South Africa

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