Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 22 June 2014

The land issue – and the hooligan now in Parliament

The rabble-rousing Mr Julius Malema, calling himself “Commander-in-Chief of the EFF”, has wasted no time in making his obnoxious and ill-mannered presence felt in the house. Not for him a measure of respect and acknowledgement of his new responsibility and no recognition of the courteous conduct that would normally be expected from members of a distinguished Parliament.

While he was kicked out of the National Assembly by Thandi Modise, chair of the National Council of Provinces, for refusing to withdraw a contentious statement and for being disruptive, the bigger issues, as he has warned us, still lie ahead. Significant among these is the stated policy of the EFF that all land ownership in the country must be returned to the state. Good communist dogma, and further evidence, as if it were needed, that the party lacks any fundamental understanding of the country’s economics.

What Malema and his EFF cronies – as well as a substantial sector of the ANC – fail to grasp is what the effect would be of further destabilising the ownership of land. Forget for a moment that South Africa has for centuries relied on the output of privately owned farms to feed the nation. Forget also the tradition of farming land being passed down generations of stable families. Ignore the wasteful mess that has been created by expropriating well-run productive farms and don’t think too much about the dreadful farm murders disgracefully being ignored by the complicit government.

Now the president is preparing to sign the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill of 2013, opening once again the land claims process until 2019. The Bill before him does not go as far as the EFF would like, but creates a level of doubt once again.

Imagine the EFF had its way, and that may not be as far-fetched as one might imagine. Remember that we were all relieved when Malema was dismissed from his youth league job and expelled from the ANC, thinking that he was out of the way. But Mr Malema is nothing if not a resourceful leader who has very skilfully reinvented himself and has now dramatically taken his place at centre stage once again. We should not discount him.

Leaving farmland out of it, consider the scenario of commercial ground and the impact of businesses being dispossessed of their property assets. What would that do to the economy? Owners will refuse to make the investments to build and expand the companies. Such companies are the very ones that have to create the jobs that are so sorely needed. It is unlikely that even this government would take the land issue that far, but even hinting at it and pandering to an EFF-type agenda could be dangerous. It’s creating doubt by again getting on to the restitution bandwagon that can have disastrous economic consequences.

Returning privately owned land to the state or farmers being forced to give half their land to their workers without compensation, as has been suggested, are potential initiatives that live off strongly held beliefs about original ownership. It is assumed in this discourse that the land belongs now and has always belonged to the indigenous people. It does not, they say, belong to the white so-called imperialist “occupiers of the land”.

Left out of this reckoning is the history of a European conquest of the land and the eventual colonisation of the indigenous tribes; as it happened with the Native Americans in the USA and the Aborigines in Australia, among others. One wonders who owns the land there. But the world has moved on and we have now come to an understanding that exploitation of resources and of people is wrong and must be put right. Racial discrimination is outlawed. Land reform and revision of how the 1913 Land Act deposed black people off their land must be undertaken. We have a functioning democracy in which everyone participates.

Returning the land to the state would suggest that it would belong to all the people of this country. Then why does one have the feeling that the idea will be overrun by the increasingly tightened Black Economic Empowerment and end up in the hands of only one sector of the population? Mr Zuma in his SONA speech should have been addressing the whole nation. It was after all the State of the Nation that was being described. But why did it seem that much of what he said appeared to have benefit only for one sector?

Mr Malema, relentlessly grinding his racist axe, was the figure of a headline-grabbing semi-literate and we simply dismissed him when he was the “enfant terrible” of the ANC youth league. The revelations of his profligate spending and his ridiculously inappropriate lifestyle elicited no more than somewhat incredulous disdain. Now, as a vociferous member of Parliament, he has a key to the main game and there will be no holding him back.

To give him credit, as I have said before, Julius Malema is a gifted leader and probably not as stupid or insensitive as he sometimes seems to be. He meets each one of the key criteria of effective leadership. He has a clear and compelling vision. He knows his constituency and how to take people with him; witness the establishment and growth of the EFF in less than a year. He also understands branding very well. The military red beret with its Che Guevera image and the red overalls now in Parliament are all part of the very successfully projected brand. He is outspoken and the media love him.

But as a wise philosopher surveying history and the rise of evil in nations once said; “Beware of a good leader with a bad idea.” DM

Johann Redelinghuys writes in his personal capacity.

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