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Land Expropriation: An attack on poor black South Africans


Ian von Memerty is a Zimbabwean-born South African entertainer, actor, singer, musician, writer, director and television presenter.

The one way to ensure that the whirlpool sucks the poorest South Africans down into a future that is even more terrible is to start on no-pay expropriation.

At Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in 2017 Julius Malema made clear: “We love Uncle Bob Mugabe.” This was in the same week that Mugabe had just been overthrown in that remarkable bloodless coup.

It was also on the same day that former Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti clearly laid out the financial disaster that Zimbabwe was enduring. Ninety percent unemployment. Yes, ninety. The majority of the country are living on a sum of 40 US cents a day. That is R5 a day or R150 a month. And since “land expropriation” started, the Zimbabwean economy has halved.

Now the fact that Mugabe practiced genocide against his fellow citizens with the Matabele slaughter of the late ‘80s is not germane to this article. Neither is the fact that Mugabe was a dictator who obliterated democracy twice, with the distortion of the parliamentary vote which Zanu-PF lost in 2003 – and then again in 2008 when he blatantly stole the presidential election.

But what is central to this article is this: Mugabe, his henchmen and their policies destroyed his country’s wealth and made sure that the poorest Zimbabweans, which means specifically black Zimbabweans, suffered unemployment, starvation and poverty at levels never before suffered at any time in their modern history.

And land expropriation without compensation was a central part of that policy, which plunged his people into hardships they did not deserve, could not foresee, and could not imagine.

Now let us state the obvious – the fact that the majority of South African land is held by white people is just not right. It is unacceptable. It is vital that black South Africans own South African land and until that right is wronged the country will not truly move forward economically, politically or socially in a way that guarantees success to all our peoples.

And the stark truth is this: until the poorest South Africans, which means 30-million black South Africans, until our people are educated, empowered, employed and endowed with all the rights of the affluent then the country will not succeed. It cannot. If the system does not work for everyone, the system is fundamentally flawed.

How can any of us who read these pages understand the frustration that nearly 24 years into democracy black South Africans are marginalised, poor, and still stuck in a whirlpool that never seems to spiral upwards? Because if you are reading this you are one of the empowered.

But you can be absolutely sure that the one way to ensure that that whirlpool sucks them down into a future that is even more terrible is to start on no-pay expropriation.

It sounds like it should help people at the bottom – but it never has.

It sounds like it should right historical wrongs – it never has.

It sounds like it is empowering ordinary people – it never has.

I expected Malema to come out with this. He has been testing the waters with this subject for the last 18 months – ever since the EFF failed to grow substantially in the 2016 elections. As a “stunt” politician he has been looking for something worthy of headlines. And this makes for great headlines.

But for Cyril Rhamaposa to send the country down this road, in the second week of his presidency, means that the days of the ANC trying to help black South Africans are well and truly over. Because now they are just trying to win black South African votes. Because this is indeed a saleable idea. And in politics that is often what works (just look at Trump’s immigrants being the cause of all US problems. Simple, saleable and completely senseless.) The fact that no-pay expropriation never works, causes untold harm and suffering on the very people who it claims to help is why the ANC has consistently voted against it.

So why have they sold the future of the country away to possibly win votes? Could this be, God Forbid, a future where Julius and Cyril team up? It is scary.

Disclosure: My brother was one of those Zimbabwean farmers whose farm was taken away by “war veterans”. The farm is now ruined, the people who invaded it are gone, the labour force is desperately impoverished.

But like most of the white Zimbabwean farmers before he died, my brother was able to eventually make a future for himself. From Botswana to Zambia, to Australia to Ghana, there are white Zimbabwean farmers, farming successfully across the world. So they are all right. Their lives were terribly disrupted but the majority of those families, with much stress, managed to create new, successful lives.

The people they left behind, poor black Zimbabweans, paid a price that was just horrendous. And to even entertain this policy is a disastrous, destructive and selfish move. It has nothing to do with redressing historical disadvantages – it is about votes.

Already there is a national failure rate of 90% with land redistribution projects. The government already owns 17-million hectares which if redistributed would mean the imbalance of ownership would be immediately reversed.

As one young black friend said to me, “Have they learned nothing? This is Zimbabwe 2.0.”

When Mugabe began land expropriation it was a political move to disempower the successful growth of the opposition of the MDC, to give favours to his cronies, and to enrich his connections. In other words, it was about keeping power.

Malema needs to grow his power base. It is understandable. It is immoral, but from a strategic point of view it is understandable. But for Ramaphosa and the ANC to reverse a decades-old policy it is about retaining power at all costs.

But the cost for that power will not be paid by white people – it will be poor black South Africans who pay an appalling price for this policy. DM


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