Mantashe to Ramaphosa detractors: 'Back off on land issue'

ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe has defended President Cyril Ramaphosa against detractors criticising him for the decision to amend the Constitution to make it explicit about allowing the expropriation of land without compensation.

Mantashe was responding to News24 columnist Max Du Preez, who wrote on Tuesday that Ramaphosa was "cutting canes for his own backside" when he personally made the announcement following an ANC lekgotla. 

"What always surprises me with liberal journalists is that they think that the president is their agent and he must say what they want. If he doesn’t say what they want, they say he is cutting cane to his backside," Mantashe told New24 in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday. 

Du Preez wrote in his weekly column: "I’m puzzled why a man [Ramaphosa] who has proved that he was a formidable, almost ruthless negotiator, first with the mine bosses and then with the apartheid bosses, would allow a populist demagogue and his less than 10% party to determine his agenda."

Expressing the ANC's decision

Mantashe said Ramaphosa was expressing a decision of his own party that had elected him. 

"It is a strange narrative, President Ramaphosa is the president of the ANC, he is the president of the republic as a consequence of being president of the ANC. If they want to make him their agent and not be the agent of ANC, they are committing a very big mistake," he said. 

Ramaphosa made the announcement as parliamentary hearings, into whether the constitution must be amended to allow for expropriation without compensation, were nearing an end. 

Analysts have criticised the decision, arguing that the party was bowing to a "populist idea" as it faced pressure from the EFF ahead of the 2019 elections.  

While Mantashe admitted that the ANC government had failed to meet all its land redistribution targets, he denied that the change in policy was influenced by fear of losing at the polls.

"We failed on all the land targets of land, that is why it is important to fast-forward, because the land question has always been at the heart of the revolution."

'You have to articulate the resolution of the party'

Ramaphosa and his faction were widely against the expropriation of land without compensation, but were defeated at the ANC's December conference.

"If you are an elected leader of any party, I can tell you, with ten years experience [as secretary general], your views count for naught once there is a resolution of the party. You have to articulate the resolution of the party and you commit to it because that is what informs your leadership."

"We went to Nasrec with many different views on many things. That conference resolves and, once it resolves and a leadership is elected, that leadership is elected to implement the resolution of congress," Mantashe explained.

READ: Land expropriation: Here's how it could be implemented, says Mantashe

He slammed those who had opposed expropriation of land without compensation by citing the failure of farms redistributed to black farmers under the democratic dispensation.

Mantashe argued that white farmers also "made mistakes" when they first took over land, however, experience had allowed them to succeed.

"The argument is that black ownership is equal to destruction of food production .. because a number of farms acquired for black farmers are not productive now... he doesn’t put the argument that failure to access to land is a factor… you can never be a farmer unless you farm." 

Mantashe proposed that the Constitution be amended to cap land ownership to 12 000 hectares per farmowner. 

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