#EWC – No silver bullet

Picture: EPA

It is remarkable that it took as long as it did, for the ANC to get pushed into giving effect to cherished dictum of the Freedom Charter: The land shall be shared among those who work it. That it took a hefty shove by the EFF, in the form of a National Assembly (NA) motion, hastily amended by the ANC, to implement expropriation of land without compensation is instructive, as is the caution with which the ANC has approached the matter since its 54th national elective conference in December adopted a land expropriation resolution.

EFF leader Julius Malema’s fiery rhetoric during the debate on the motion in the NA last week, really set the cat among the pigeons, and virtually as he spoke, the Rand tanked against the major currencies.

His utterly contradictory proposition for returning the land to the dispossessed – that all land must be expropriated without compensation and held by the state, making us a population of tenants in perpetuity – was handily tempered by former Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile NKwinti’s cautious delivery which stressed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s view on the matter: that there will be no smash and grab of land in South Africa on his watch.

Nonetheless, as alarm spread locally and internationally at the prospect of a change to the property clause in our constitution, the handy #EWC was born.

With Jacob Zuma gone, the DA and the EFF have lost a common enemy, and at the same time, their respective relevance has begun to decline. If the land question was as important in the minds of the average voter as the EFF would have us believe, then it would command significantly more than the 6% electoral support that it currently enjoys, but with the ANC having stolen a march on it in December, the EFF was desperately casting about for something to prop up its flagging political prospects. After all, if the ANC were to pursue #EWC with the same zeal as the EFF, what war cry would the EFF have left?

As much as Julius Malema would have us believe that the EFF and the ANC are on precisely the same page on #EWC, and that the EFF is leading the charge, nothing could be further from the truth.

#EWC will happen, and as Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi noted at the launch of his book The land is ours on Friday on Constitution Hill, “there must be instances where you can expropriate (land) without compensation”, but the bangmaak stories doing the rounds at present, handily propagated by lobby group Afriforum, that it will be a free-for-all resulting in wholesale dispossession without compensation of all property in white hands, is patently ridiculous.

There are two extremes in the land debate. That nothing changes – what the DA and those who voted against the motion want – and all land is expropriated without compensation and vested in the state – what the EFF wants, and they are equally simplistic and unworkable.

The exigencies of crafting a policy framework that will foster investment and economic growth, and ensure the growth of the agricultural sector, dictate a more nuanced and wide-ranging engagement on the matter, leading to a modus vivendi that will heal the pain of those whose ancestors were violently dispossessed of their land.

The myriad of details about what happens to the mortgage debt on a tract of expropriated land, what happens to improvements on expropriated land – typically the greater proportion of total value, how emergent farmers will be funded and supported when they are settled on expropriated land, what happens when beneficiaries opt for a cash payment instead of land expropriated without compensation, how far we go back in history in determining whose descendants get to benefit, the granularity of land divisibility, and precisely who owns what land, are among the pressing issues that cannot be resolved by fiat: an arbitrary order.

The passage of the motion in the NA last week, is not an end in itself. Rather, it signals the commencement of a lengthy process of societal engagement that must result in a legislative framework that passes constitutional muster, and which gives back the land.

We proved in the 1990s that we, as a nation, are capable of talking our way through seemingly intractable and irreconcilable problems, the proof of which is our relatively bloodless transition from apartheid to democracy, and our widely respected constitution and bill of rights.

Now is the time for us to engage once more with a seemingly intractable problem and resolve it, before it tears apart what we have managed to build, imperfect as it might be, over the last 24 years.