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What’s Pieter Mulder’s place in the new South Africa?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

Pieter Mulder and those who share his opinions are an excellent reminder of just how terrible the old country was.

What was Pieter Mulder thinking? What was he hoping to achieve with his ludicrous statement in Parliament?

During the state of the nation debate in Parliament, Pieter Mulder, the leader of that discredited bunch of right-wingers the Freedom Front Minus, said blacks have no historical claim to 40% of the land (in South Africa), because they had not arrived at Western Cape and Northern Cape before the white settlers did.

“Africans in particular never in the past lived in the whole of South Africa. There is sufficient proof that there were no Bantu-speaking people in Western Cape and north-western Cape,” he said.

The proof he cited was the diary of Voortrekkers.

Now, one doesn’t cite this theory in Parliament to just troll the South African public. The last time I came across it, I was reading the Cape Party’s website just before the local government elections last year. They too claim a special right over Western Cape, but they go one further than that – they call for Western Cape to secede from South Africa.

The point of Mulder’s nonsense is that he doesn’t believe in the project that is the new South Africa. He doesn’t like the new dispensation and is at loggerheads with efforts to redress a racist past. He represents people who have no interest in the new South Africa. Some have suggested he was pandering to the 146,796 voters who put him in Parliament. I think this is half the truth. I think Mulder enjoys the support he does because he actually believes the lies the right-wing bandies about.

The real point here is that land restitution is happening too slowly and we’re never going to reach the target of transferring 30% of the land to blacks. According to the Development Bank of South Africa, 20% of the land belonged to blacks in 2001. However, the government reckons only 8% of the land is currently in black hands.

Clearly there’s a lot of disagreement, and with so much at stake, one would have thought the parties involved would have approached the debate in a sober manner.

Instead, Mulder chose to spit in the face of thousands of victims of apartheid land grabs.

The Democratic Alliance has blamed the slow pace of transformation on the department of land reform. Mmusi Maimane, the party’s national spokesman, said that redress is a democratic imperative.

“Instead of denying our history, as Mulder does, we must do everything we can to ensure people have access to land. We have to put right the wrongs of the past,” Maimane said.

As much as anyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how barmy, it is good to have people like Mulder around to remind us of the type of South Africa we once were, and why transformation and social cohesion based on it are so important.

But it isn’t that simple for Mulder. He happens to be both a member of Parliament and a member of the Zuma administration as the deputy minister of agriculture. As a deputy minister, he is Constitutionally not actually a part of the Cabinet. According to Section 91(1) of the Constitution, Cabinet consists of the President, a deputy president and ministers, and it is they who have executive powers. Deputy ministers have no executive authority. However, they are part of the executive arm of government, which forms policy and executes it. One of these policies is land reform. We even have a government department devoted to it, and a Cabinet minister in charge of it. It is no small peanuts by anyone’s measure.

There is a tension for Mulder between his responsibility as a part of the executive, and his loyalty to the constituency that sent him to Parliament. The two are at complete loggerheads over the land reform policy. Mulder has chosen his side (once again one must wonder why Zuma invited him to be a deputy minister in the first place), and he must follow his decision through and resign from his agricultural ministry post.

In his reply to the state of the nation debate, Zuma said Mulder had stunned the nation with his “bold denial of historical facts about land dispossession”. The president fired a very clear shot across Mulder’s bow. If the FF- leader doesn’t resign, Zuma should invite him to resign, and failing that, should publicly sack him.

It seems impossible to debate any issue in this country without histrionics of the sort displayed by Mulder. Strangely, we’re also intensely uncomfortable with disagreement. We seem to believe that South Africa will be at peace with itself when we all agree and, therefore, have a duty to shush anyone who ever says anything too upsetting. We don’t really believe that true harmony comes from respecting different views.

However, if we truly believe that equality, transformation and redress are the way South Africa should go, then we should remind Mulder and his flock that they belong in the past. DM


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