The South African landscape is currently undergoing what can be deemed a watershed moment. The discourse around land is at the forefront of the socio-economic narrative, with public hearings on the expropriation of land without compensation happening across the country. The Economic Freedom Fighters, a political party at the forefront of the call for expropriation of land without compensation, continues to be at the brunt of liberal media and political analysts’ frantic scrutiny.
More notably in recent times it is the constituency of the EFF, electorally and otherwise that has felt the disdain of public commentators such as Eusebius McKaiser, Justice Malala, Jacques Pauw, Peter Bruce, Ferial Haffajee and others. References to the EFF membership vary in degrees and have some of the most undermining connotations. From being called a “macho” organisation hinged on “bro code” politics by Mckaiser, to being deemed an unruly, violent-prone mob by Justice Malala, under the spell of President Julius Malema, the intellectual autonomy of the EFF membership has been insulted and undermined, and our ability to discern between our options and politically has been disregarded at the whim of swaart gevaar journalism.
This article will therefore allude, via a comparative analysis of the land question, and how South Africans who choose to identify and support the EFF – majority black people – are not a mindless bunch under a totalitarian spell of a Stalinist organisation. It will go deeper than the George Orwell-esque communist fear-mongering of popular media and unpack how comparatively on the land question the EFF is our party of choice because it has the most logical and directive policy positions.
I will do this by analysing the land policies of “The Big Three” in South African politics.
The Democratic Alliance
The official opposition is the loudest opposition to the calls for the expropriation of land without compensation, which does not come as a surprise to anyone. A party created and sustained solely to protect the interests of ruling capital and the darling of private investors, the DA is the proverbial neo-liberal and entrenches the status quo subtly under the guise of social cohesion, with a tinge of ahistorical meritocracy principles and free market ideological outlooks.
The DA’s policy on land makes repeated mention of partnerships with the private sector and the protection of individual property rights. Which is easy to pronounce when a large chunk of valuable property in the country is owned by a small minority, and the property rights of black people amount to shack dwellings and RDP houses in congested areas. On shelter they say that there can be much faster progress in addressing the housing backlog “if we allow the private sector greater scope to become involved and to develop innovative models for housing delivery and affordable integrated housing developments.”
It is the same with the land reform process, with an almost too enthusiastic emphasis on the possible role the private sector could play in sharing the wealth they have been reluctant to share with most of the country since 1994 and decades before.
The DA continues to portray the private sector as a group of well-meaning individuals who have been deprived of the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the socio-economic realities of South Africa. A private sector that has had its tax contribution either lowered or stagnate for the past couple of years. A private sector that is in control of 87% of South Africa’s land and has shown no intention of relinquishing it even when offered compensation. It is a fallacy the DA perpetuates, that the private sector in South Africa may have the best interests of South Africans at heart, when in fact it is their pockets, their investment which is the priority.
The DA’s policy becomes more alarming when one reads their “7 Pillars” for land reform in South Africa. It begins with a hypocritical stance of deeming state expropriation of land without compensation as land theft. This ignores the history of land dispossession and how compensation for land illegal begotten under colonial regimes would be tantamount to compensating criminal activity and the most sordid crimes against humanity ever recorded. The DA goes further in these seven pillars to propose title deeds to beneficiaries of subsidised housing schemes and past recipients of RDP houses. In the same breath, the policy outlines how some beneficiaries of land restitution would prefer compensation as opposed to the direct transfer of land. The nefarious nature of the DA’s land policy rears its ugly head here.
Firstly, to give people title deeds to RDP houses, and possibly informal settlements does not address the reality of apartheid spatial planning across the country. Particularly in the Western Cape where the DA governs, and the black majority is isolated from industrial areas and the CBD. In fact, to give people title deeds would entrench this reality.
Secondly when one provides title deeds to a populous so grossly alienated from the economy you must understand the possible, and likely consequences. One would inadvertently be giving these people collateral in terms of land. Collateral provides opportunity to receive loans from the banking sector, loans that poor black people would have no capacity of paying back. The DA does in fact go further to say that its government would provide subsidies for those who do not qualify for RDP houses to get home loans.
Not only is this lazy as the DA plans to inherit the flawed RDP housing project of the ANC, it is a monumental debt trap. The land on which these RDP houses and the RDP houses themselves will most likely be repossessed by banks as our people will have property in their hands which they can place as collateral when getting loans. The DA’ s beloved private sector in the form of the banking sector will then own land which was at some point in the hands of the state, and a process of what can only be deemed neo-liberal land theft will be complete.
Their open-door policy to giving land claimants so to say, compensation as opposed to direct land transfers, is also nefarious. The DA and the ruling class understand perfectly the sustainability of wealth under land ownership as opposed to a once off payment. It is why the ANC has struggled to buy off so much of the land from them. Land is agriculture, settlement, minerals. Its value hardly depreciates, whereas a once off payment to a poor black family will not last to the next generation when one assesses the condition of black people economically in South Africa, and fiscal illiteracy generally.
When it comes to land policy the DA’s policy is as sinister as it gets. It is disingenuous and does nothing to change skewed property ownership patterns in this country. The plan is simply to keep black people where they are spatially, and further in debt them to a private sector that has nothing but self-seeking interests in South Africa.
The African National Congress
The ANC has not altered much in terms of its tedious and unfruitful case by case land restitution programme. The ANC has no grasp of what it agreed to in its National Elective Conference in 2018, nor in the debate on land expropriation without compensation of the 27th of February 2018.
The now Head of Policy in the ANC waffled a self-contradictory position in March of 2018. The ANC firstly wants to prioritise the redistribution of unused, vacant and underutilised land. Why this has not been done over the past 24 years is beyond me. However, when looking at this vacant unused land. Most of it is not arable, is on the outskirts of economic hubs and industrialised areas and is not suitable for human settlement. It is cowardice by the ruling party, as per usual. An unnecessary pronouncement if one was serious about confronting the unfair property relations in earnest.
The position on privately owned land is more frightening and confused. It reads that “redistribution will be pursued through legitimate claims for restitution”. This places an unfair burden on many displaced black communities who have lost track of any form of proof of their forebears inhabiting an area. Now they are forced to rummage for “legitimate” evidence of being displaced and dispossessed.
The report goes further, it reads that “mining and other private sector land owners should be encouraged to release their land to the state for human settlement purposes”. What is the point of legislative process if one must undergo the task of encouraging reluctant property owners? How does one reconcile expropriation without compensation, a definitive and directive act with phrases such as encouragement? The ANC either has no appetite to enforce its congress resolution and continues to ease the anxieties of private land owners and investors with phrases that undermine the resolution for expropriation fundamentally. The ambivalent Cyril Ramaphosa confirms that land will be expropriated in the interests of food security and stable foreign investment when in the country, when outside the country assures investors that their property interests are secure. A Deputy Minister of Public Works and supposed communist goes around the country claiming there is an emerging view in the ANC that there is no need to amend Section 25 of the constitution and that expropriation of land without compensation is a populist view, contrary to their own congress resolution. There is a constant emphasis on security of tenure, almost mimicking the DA in some instances while maintaining the need for land redistribution.
The ANC is incoherent at a policy level and their many positions on the land reflects that. It is a typical post-liberation movement failure, that has never known how to utilise electoral power to further the agenda to alleviate the conditions of black people due to a variety of external vested interests that determine its ideological and policy perspectives.
The Economic Freedom Fighters
Arguably the only decisive organisation on its stance on the land question in South Africa currently, the EFF provides a guide not only theoretically on why the land should be expropriated without compensation, but how this will benefit the majority.
In reading the EFF’s position one must link its first and second cardinal pillars. That being, expropriation of South Africa’s land for equitable redistribution and the nationalisation of mines, banks and strategic sectors of the economy. This is important as nationalisation of mines and banks particularly creates a sound economic base in terms of ownership for national and continental growth, that will not be dictated by forces external to Africa.
The policy document reads as follows on land and nationalisation respectively: “The EFF’s approach to land expropriation without compensation is that all land should be transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state . . . Once the state is in control and custodianship of all land, those who are currently using the land or intend using land in the immediate will apply for land-use licences, which should be granted only when there is a purpose for the land being applied for. Those applying for licences will be granted licences for a maximum of 25 years, renewable on the basis that the land is being used as planned. The state should, within this context, hold the right to withdraw the licence and reallocate the land for public purposes.”
Let us begin with the sound logic of the above. The state constitutes itself as a proportional representation of the will of the people, the electorate. It represents the interests of said society as being the custodian of all affairs relating to the well being of its citizenship. It is a legislative entity that is constituted by people and political parties with a popular mandate. If we can trust the state to be the custodian of our societies affairs, from health care, education, public works, and a range of other sectors of society, why is it so difficult to grasp the state as the custodian of one of the most essential resources, the land. It is sound and the most just administration of land that can be achieved, and to now be outraged at the EFF’s ability to turn an institution that previously and normatively does not impede with the interests of private capital and use it as a revolutionary tool to achieve its ideological objectives as set out in its documents is frivolous. The EFF has effectively used its popular mandate to achieve what its electoral constituency expected from it. It is a battle of ideas that it continues to win.
How then do processes of expropriation and nationalisation benefit our society? Unlike the vague proposals of the DA which are insistent on private sector dependency, or the uncertain ANC, the EFF lays out in its documents how its programme of action will benefit the country and its expected results, regardless of expected backlash from the economic terror posed by foreign investment and private capital. On nationalisation the document reads as follows: “The benefits of nationalising strategic sectors of the economy will include, but not be limited to, the following realities:
All of these are likely realities primarily because the state has an obligation to fulfill social welfare needs to its citizenship as opposed to the private sector. A state not only has its electoral power to consider, but functions under a social contract with a society, unlike the private sector which functions on a cost-benefit analysis and dictates policy that effects the livelihood of people according to that. Should a state then be the custodian of wealth it will not only have an obligation but the fiscal capacity to alter the socio-economic realities of the populous.
This simple and sound logic, compared to the rest of the options at hand, informs the membership of many of the members of the EFF. The EFF is simply superior and ethically sound ideologically and otherwise. The hurling of insults at its strategies, the undermining of its constituencies’ ability to think, the fear mongering simply has no effect because the EFF’s policies speak to grass roots issues. It is a grass roots movement that has tactically overtaken the political landscape.
As it turned five years old this year, I am concerned for the integrity of journalism and political commentary in relation to the EFF. As they continue to miss the plot, to distort the EFF message and to denigrate it, it grows ever stronger while many liberals alienate themselves from real public discourse.
A happy birthday to the only organisation left on The Left. May it continue to disturb the neo-liberal fabric of South African politics. DM
Sinawo Thambo is the EFF Student Command chairperson of the Western Cape and a student at the University of Cape Town
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