Land expropriation is a very hot political debate today. Even parliamentarians are engaged in perspectives’ contest over the issue. The government should tread carefully on the matter, writes VUSIE MBA
There seems to be those who are pro- and anti-expropriation of land in the political arena. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the African National Congress (ANC) and the African People’s Congress (APC) are on the side of expropriation whilst the neoliberal official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other neo-liberals like AgriSA are on the opposing side.
Perhaps, it should be clarified that expropriation of land without compensation is not meant to attack white owners of land as purported by some commentators. More than a race issue, expropriation of land without compensation has to address class inequities; hence, expropriation of land without compensation also threatens some people of a darker hue who are landowners.
Having touched on this matter, one has to admit that it is very difficult to separate race from class in the Republic of South Africa (SA) because of the country’s racist past. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a policy position meant to address the inequalities of the colonial and apartheid past has degenerated into Blacks versus Whites issue on many platforms. Listening to the radio, the so-called middle class, especially those who deeply believe in neoliberal economics, oppose a resolution taken at Nasrec by the ANC.
Food security is very important, but scaremongering that is advanced by neoliberals opposed to land expropriation without compensation like the likes of DA should not deter the determination of the forces of transformation. However, in expropriating land, the governing party should not forget to balance between the current need to ensure food security and the need for redress.
Of course, there should be an expectation of vehement opposition to this transformation agenda because there are still people who want to defend economic privilege at all costs. Some defend the status quo because of current political expediency.
Land expropriation should not be advanced haphazardly because radicalism is not recklessness. Some people who support land expropriation seem to care less about the potential unintended consequences. Zimbabwe’s land reform dynamics and the failure of a neoliberal willing-buyer-willing-seller policy at home should serve as lessons to RSA.
Despite the emotional and adventurist positions of some in the name of radical politics directed by theoretical deficiencies and populism, the government should keep a cool head to navigate the matter well. To tread carefully is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of being responsible. As much as land reform is important, so is the sustained wellbeing of the Black working class majority who are motive forces of land reform.
Expropriation of land without compensation is more than just a mere economic issue; it is a justice issue that all revolutionaries should entertain. We know that social cohesion should be guarded; it would not only be tantamount to selling out but also criminal to ignore the land issue.
Pre 1994, during the CODESA talks, the land issue was compromised because the apartheid resisters were required to make some compromises. It is now more than two decades after the first democratic elections. Any sober and honest activist would agree that the land issue should be propelled to the front at the juncture of economic freedom struggle as the millennial generation of progressives has identified its mission.
The struggle against colonialism of a special type was at the heart primarily about land, constitution and voting were secondary. It is misleading and counterrevolutionary to be blackmailed about constitutionalism that is narrowly defined in a neoliberal manner.
Nobody said that there ought to be illegal expropriation. Hence some are calling for the amendment of the constitution. Others are saying the contents of section 25 are enough, the only political will is needed on the part of the government. Legal ways are suggested in democratic institutions like parliament and in line with the constitution.
To limit expropriation of land to money is very ideologically infuriating because it is about restoring dignity to the poor and promotes a sense of pride to the majority of people. It is sickening to note that the counterrevolutionaries have reduced this important matter to capitalist market requirements which put profits before people. Land expropriation is principally about people before profits.
Land that ought to be expropriated is not limited to agricultural land – industrial and residential plots are also important. Agriculture is important for the country’s economy to thrive, but it is a mistake to think that land expropriation is solely for agricultural purposes.
People need industrial land for manufacturing and other economic activities that are not agricultural. If RSA is to succeed in other goals like beneficiation and creating black industrialists, industrial development is important. Many industries can be created and land is needed because technology is not so advanced that factories and any physical infrastructure can be built on air.
Urban and rural land for settlement to shelter millions of the population who need decent, affordable and safe settlements should also be expropriated in the interest of the public. Informal settlements are numerous and many people are flocking into cities, thus creating a need for land to build houses. Floods and other natural disasters cause serious damage to settlements because the land that is safe is either owned by a certain capitalist who opposes transformation or inaccessible to the masses.
Karl Marx and his friend, Engels, asserted that government represents the ruling class (capitalists) over the working class. The neoliberal political players like the DA and its unkind friends want the government of the day to represent the already privileged who have inherited ill-gotten land from the African originals. Neither populism nor ignorance of the ticking time bomb of hunger can be of help on the land issue. The land issue should be addressed carefully.
The governing party must remember that fighting against racial discrimination was not easy and the so-called new South Africa was borne out of a negotiated settlement which was a political breakthrough, not a revolution. The difficulty with which breaking the shackles of apartheid were broken provides an example of how difficult transformation is bound to be. It is thus not perplexing that land expropriation is attracting opposition from some neoliberal quarters.
The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) should guide the government in carefully expropriating land without compensation. The National Democratic Society (NDS) is not theoretically conceivable in the midst of land deprivation and economic privilege that is along racial lines. To bring truth to the adage of unity in diversity requires no unity or solidarity in landlessness by the majority. If the country is a real rainbow nation, economic elevation of the landless portion of the nation should not be opposed by anyone.
Racial struggles are not mechanically waged separately from class and gender struggles, thus there ought to be simultaneous waging of these struggles. Today, as we are always bombarded with this fact, South Africa is an unequal society with a Gini coefficient at an excess of a half.
The distance between the rich (largely male Caucasians) and the poor (largely people of colour) is always growing. Land expropriation without compensation can fundamentally tilt this skewed scale because land is a primary economic slice from which both the base and the superstructure depend.
Land expropriation without compensation is very important. RSA government, in dealing with land expropriation, at the risk of being accused of selling out, should tread carefully.
LAND, BREAD AND PEACE!
Mba is a member of the ANCYL DR Rubusana Regional Task Team and part of Provincial ANC Political Education Training Unit (PETU). Writing in his personal capacity.