Daily Maverick

Op-Ed: Land, Jobs and President Ramaphosa

The President has promised a jobs summit, and this is a welcome idea. However, he has also supported the policy of expropriation of land without compensation. Expropriation is now a policy of the ANC, and after the vote in Parliament in favour of the Economic Freedom Front's (EFF) motion to amend the Constitution, the policy is fast becoming the keystone of South Africa’s new dawn. A new dawn of what exactly, remains to be seen. By MARIUS OOSTHUIZEN.

Without an ANC jobs plan, Julius Malema sounds like a clever black. It was former president Jacob Zuma who first coined the term “clever blacks”. He used it to refer to his enemies within the ANC, specifically urban white-collar workers from Gauteng. These so-called clever voters took issue with his looting in Nkandla. By contrast, the rural poor, Zuma’s power-base, didn’t seem to mind their thieving chief’s mega-rondavel.

These “clever blacks”, the former president intimated, were preoccupied with his morality, which implied by contrast that the not-so-clever working class people could stomach his contradictions, and still support the ANC.

Fortunately the Zuma-train has now derailed and we have a clever President in the highest office in the land. Only, his party seems to be making less-than-clever policy choices. With the one breath the President promotes the protection of the business environment, investor confidence and inclusive growth, and with the next he announced the retention of Cabinet ministers; Malusi Gupta Gigaba, Nomvula Pick-up-the-Rand Mokonyane and Bathabile Sassa-debacle Dlamini. The President is not consolidating his power – he is buying ANC unity, trading one ministerial position at a time. Patronage is the only ace up the President’s sleeve, as it were – pun intended.

This is the same reason why expropriation of land without compensation has now become so popular in the ANC. Expropriation is the clever brainchild of Julius Malema’s youth movement. These young South Africans are not only landless due to colonial and apartheid legacies, but often skill-less and jobless. The unemployed youth of South Africa are trapped in the chasm between a de-industrialising, digitising private sector, and a misaligned, outdated and inefficient industrial state owned enterprise environment, that has caused the mining and manufacturing sectors to collapse.

South Africa’s unemployment is rising. The recent blip in increased jobs was largely due to growth in agriculture on the back of better rainfall. These jobs are seasonal, and will do nothing to address structural unemployment.

To respond, the President has promised a jobs summit, and this is a welcome idea. However, he has also supported the policy of expropriation of land without compensation. Expropriation is now a policy of the ANC, and after the vote in Parliament in favour of the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) motion to amend the Constitution, the policy is fast becoming the keystone of South Africa’s new dawn. A new dawn of what exactly, remains to be seen.

Land for whom?

Do the majority of the 56-million South Africans own land? No. Do they want to own land? I’m not sure. Do the whites own land? Well, some do. But the majority of whites don’t own land and if they do own assets, these are financed through a retail banks at a high rate of interest. What is clear is that comparatively fewer black South Africans own land compared to their white counterparts. Very few black South Africans own any assets outright.

So why has land hunger become a hot issue now? As a futurist, I’m not surprised that is has. In fact, I have for four years argued that land ownership and land reform will top the national agenda before the turn of the decade. The reason is two-fold:

Simply put, in the absence of a viable ANC jobs plan, Malema looks like a clever black, and his ideology, looks like a lucky-packet of radical economic transformation for the young black majority. As the ANC crumbles under corruption and irrelevance, they will drift towards Malema’s lure.

The ANC’s failure to come up with a viable labour-absorptive growth plan and path for the country has made Malema’s plan to “take the land” sound clever. Of course Mr. Malema could not have conjured up a different plan since he himself has never worked in a factory, swept the floor in a bank or started a business. He only knows politics and the limited mythologies of Steve Biko and Chris Hani. Malema is a dyed-in-the-wool struggler who had an inordinately successful but brief stint as an ANC-tenderpreneur. Since then he has mastered reality-TV in Parliament and created a brand, the EFF, which resonates with the economically-excluded, who do not feel free in their poverty, and who are angry and willing to fight. Clever. He is selling candy to kids. But having raised kids, not everything they tend to want is good for their health.

This means that South Africa faces a fork in the road of national development. The ANC under Mr. Ramaphosa, will select the direction we take as a country. As the image below depicts, either we change rapidly through revolutionary change (top), or take small incremental steps to a better life for all (bottom). Either we continue state-led distribution (left) or the business community charges ahead towards productivity growth (right).

If the emerging Malema-Ramaphosa waltz continues, we will see a destabilising shift towards left-wing populism (top left). If the ANC manages to talk left and walk right, government will merely be tinkering with the human capital – industry edges, in the form of small-scale small-impact, socialist interventionism, which cannot create sustainable jobs (bottom left), then Malema is likely to be elected president in 2023. If the Ramaphosa administration can turn the new leader’s private sector friendships into real action, we may see a developmental business posture developing, and unlocking expansionary secondary industry investment and growth (bottom right). Alternatively, if Ramaphosa is playing politics with Malema, by mimicking his rhetoric without abandoning his own respected economic logic, we might see the emergence of a fast-moving developmental public-private partnership and social compact to unlock a black industrialist commodity export revolution.

In the meantime, the wily citizens of South Africa, who are clever and informed, will look around for leaders who offer them a prospect of a better future. Some might even take a gamble on seemingly clever plans, that don’t address the underlying issue – a lack of productive involvement by citizens in the economy. DM

Marius Oosthuizen is a member of faculty at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics. He oversees the Future of Business in SA project which uses strategic foresight and scenario planning to explore the future of South Africa

Photo: Unemployed workers wait for jobs in the Western Cape, South Africa, May 2015. Photo: Nic Bothma (EPA)

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