Mondli Makhanya: The great land return lie
If you ever wondered where these land-hungry masses we keep getting told about are to be found, look no further than the teeming public transportation hubs; the sprawling informal settlements and the overcrowded hostels in towns and cities.
You will find them on roadsides waiting to be picked up by a bakkie for a temporary job or queuing outside construction sites for a day’s work.
But what are they doing in the cities if they are land-hungry? Well, that is the whole point. They are seeking a place in the modern economy, having fled the basic-ness of a peasant existence. In many cases, they have left arable land behind in the countryside, driven by the belief that life in urban areas offers social mobility for them and their children.
This reality was conveniently ignored by the majority of MPs who took part in the debate and voted on the proposed amendment to the Constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation. It is missed by those who want to go to the extraordinary lengths of fiddling with the Constitution to solve a problem that does not really exist.
Our reality is that the countrysides and urban areas are battling to cope, while our policymakers obsess about taking people back to an agrarian past.
Tuesday’s debate on the motion by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), backed by the ANC, was a depressing affair. It was all emotion and sentiment with very little substance. The only people who bothered to apply their minds to what would be the most substantive amendment to the Constitution since its adoption in 1996, were those opposing the motion. Their arguments were scientific and fact-based and were correctly wary of the immediate and long-term repercussions of going this route.
There were times when the debate took on the shrill tone of those evangelical churches when worshippers froth at the mouth and speak in tongues. There was a moment when this lowly newspaperman expected Pastor Mboro to show up and announce that the day of deliverance was nigh. It was populism on steroids as MPs argued that amending section 25 of the Constitution would help restore black people’s dignity, alleviate poverty, end hunger and assuage the pain of colonialism and apartheid.
It was perfectly fine for the EFF to champion this line of thinking. The return of the land is one of its foundational themes and an issue on which it has been able to expose the ANC’s lethargic implementation of land reform and restitution programmes. It was understandable for the other smaller parties to spew the populist nonsense as we are headed for election season. What was galling was to witness the ANC, the party that has governed South Africa for almost 24 years, playing to the gallery. The ANC has over the past two decades developed comprehensive policies on land reform and restitution and put in place an institutional infrastructure to give effect to these policies. Study after study – including those by the ANC government – have shown that the failure is due to capacity weaknesses, corruption and shoddy implementation, not any constitutional impediment.
In fact, the Kgalema Motlanthe-led high-level panel into the impact of post-1994 legislation thoroughly analysed the failure and debunked this myth. Two giants of our judiciary made submissions to the panel and pointed to the exact opposite.
Retired Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs said in his submission that, far from being a barrier to radical land redistribution, the Constitution requires and facilitates extensive and progressive land reform programmes.
“It provides for constitutional and judicial control to ensure equitable access and prevent abuse. It contains no willing seller, willing buyer principle, the application of which could make expropriation unaffordable,” said Sachs.
Recently, retired deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke has spoken about his regret that this issue has never been tested. He echoed this sentiment.
“The willingness of the buyer and/or of the seller may facilitate a smooth transaction, but does not seem to be a constitutional requirement,” he wrote.
There does not seem to be any indication that the drafters of the ANC’s resolution at its national elective conference bothered to read the panel’s report. It was commissioned by the presiding officers – who are senior governing party leaders – and the panel was chaired by the organisation’s former secretary-general and deputy president. It was clear that those who presented the party’s argument on Tuesday knew about the contents of the report, which is the property of the national legislature. They just came to Parliament to howl slogans.
Don’t get me wrong, land reform and land restitution must happen – for historical and practical reasons. As mentioned above, they are catered for in existing policy. But what we are now doing as a country is making “the return of the land” an article of faith – so much so that we are even prepared to break the Constitution to achieve what implementation of policy can achieve. We are prepared to lie to “our people” and tell them that the “return of the land” is the great panacea.
There was much gnashing of the teeth and cursing this week when the racist opportunists jumped on Tuesday’s development to embark on a scare-mongering campaign and warn of an impending Zimbabwe. What did we expect? This was the perfect gift to AfriForum and company. More crucially, Tuesday did a lot to dilute the positive vibe South Africa has been enjoying in 2018.