Mixed messages

David Mabuza

The ANC will be changing the constitution to allow expropriation of land without compensation.

Ownership of land by any single individual must be limited to 12 000ha.

As the leadership of the ANC and government, we are clear that the implementation of land reform measures must not result in social fractures and racial polarisation.

Three statements by three senior ANC leaders on the land question.

The first, President Cyril Ramaphosa when he summarily announced that rather than wait for the conclusion of the Parliamentary process currently underway to poll the opinion of the electorate on the matter of amending the property clause in the constitution, the ruling party would in any case proceed with amending the constitution.

The second, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe on various public platforms tossing out an opinion which may or may not form part of the ANC’s thinking on the land question.

The third, Deputy President David Mabuza, addressing the Agri-SA land summit at Bela Bela in Limpopo Province last Thursday.

Mr Mabuza went on to say: “The land reform processes that we are undertaking pose no direct threat to the agriculture sector and the economy as a whole.

“Everything we do will be done within the confines of our constitutional framework.As the ANC, we will not support ‘land grab’ processes intended to undermine the economy and the work of the agriculture sector.”

He promised that no farms would be invaded or grabbed and that farmers did not have to fear for their well-being.

Although these three perspectives are by no means in direct conflict with each other, what is clear, is the degree of policy uncertainty that bedevils the ANC on this, and other issues.

That President Donald Trump’s recent tweet about our land reform travails was characteristically ill-informed and inflamatory was to be expected, but why did it happen in the first place?

Surely the so-called leader of the free world has bigger issues that demand his attention than the contortions of a dot on the southern tip of the African continent, which he did characterise collectively as a shithole?

But Mr Trump’s tweet does make its provenance clear. He is a committed viewer of Fox News, which, without putting too fine a point on it, is conservative in its editorial purview.

That anchor Tucker Carlson got it wrong when he announced that Mr Ramaphosa has changed the South African constitution to facilitate the expropriation of white-owned farms without compensation is bluntly obvious.

What is equally obvious is Mr Trump’s impetuosity in his typically early-morning engagement with his millions of Twitter followers, exhorting Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to “closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers”.

We now also know that AfriForum may have played a role in muddying the water about our land reform debate, during a recent lobbying trip to America by luminaries, Ernst Roets and Kallie Kriel. Mr Roets is on record as saying: “I believe our trip played a role (in the Trump tweet)” and “We welcome it. We think it’s great news.”

The nuance of our land reform debate is likely to escape most foreign news organisations, particularly in an environment of uncertainty, and more pertinently, an era of fake news and alternative facts, particularly when the chief protagonist consistently telegraphs uncertainty.

International Relations and Co-operation Minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, makes the observation that Mr Trump’s tweet was based on false information and has lodged an official complaint with the Charge d’Affaires at the American embassy in Pretoria.

The Charge d’Affaires was urged to “indicate to Washington that the people of South Africa of all races are working together through Parliament and other legal platforms to find a solution to this historic challenge and that President Trump’s tweet serves only to polarise debate on this sensitive and crucial matter.”

Many of the farmer delegates at the Limpopo land summit are said to have angrily rejected Mr Trump’s tweet as ill-informed, inflamatory and misleading, but it is the observation of a young black farmer speaking at that summit which puts this imbroglio into sharp perspective.

“The deputy president assured farmers government isn’t going to do anything reckless,” said Tshilidzi Matshidzula, 30, a dairy farmer with 1 000 cattle on his Eastern Cape farm.

“(But) as a farmer, although I’m black, expropriation is a serious concern. The sooner we get formal clarity on how it will be handled, the better.”

Instead of knee-jerk vote-gathering blandishments, characteristic of a political organisation perpetually on the back foot, on the most sensitive and divisive topic in our fragile democracy, what the country needs pretty damn quickly, is policy certainty on the land question.

For it is policy uncertainty, intra-organisational confusion, and conflicting messages that create fertile ground for the likes of AfriForum to further its dubious agenda.

It is time the ANC formulated that much needed policy document spelling out its land reform policy, once and for all.