[OPINION] The land: who really stands to benefit?

The EFF leads the political conversation on land in South Africa. It, through its leader Julius Malema, has managed to firmly lodge the land question into our collective consciousness like never before in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. They have also managed to bring the conversation from the fringes of political discourse into the very centre of our democratic institutions. For this, they ought to be congratulated. Resolution on this matter must be reached sooner rather than later.

However, is the recent land debate truly about the restoration of land to the dispossessed masses, or an exercise in political expediency for nothing more than the greedy control of South Africa’s primary asset, by the political elite? Who really stands to benefit? The devil is in the detail, not in the rhetoric.

On Tuesday, 27 February 2018 , the EFF managed to sponsor and win by an overwhelming majority a motion in Parliament that sought to scrap Section 25 of the Constitution, which they believe to be responsible for the hindrance of land reform in South Africa, and to adopt a policy of the expropriation of land without compensation. They were supported, albeit with an interesting proviso, by the ANC hence their so-called 'victory'.

A year ago, almost to the day, Julius had offered the ANC the EFF’s portion of the electoral mandate in Parliament - their 6% - to change the Constitution in this regard. The ANC refused, citing as a reason, amongst others, the policy of not being dictated to by opposition parties. Well, clearly that policy is not etched in stone.

One wonders, however, whether this change in ANC policy is a sign of a renewed consciousness, or a carefully thought-out political manoeuvre to wrest from the EFF what seems to be the one issue that resonates most with the electorate ahead of the all-important 2019 elections? The Land question.

Secondly, one wonders whether the newly forged co-operation between the beleaguered ANC and the EFF is a sign of a renewed sense of black political solidarity on the land question, a prelude as some suggest, to the EFF’s return to the ANC. Interesting to note that the PAC, the original and historic campaigner on the land issue, was not present in Parliament as this issue was debated.

Allow me to state from the onset that neither the ANC nor the EFF are serious about the restoration of land to the landless as they purport. Their respective history and policies is evidence enough of that fact.

The dispossession of black South Africans of their land is a phenomenon as old as South Africa itself. That was the fundamental reason for the colonial project in all its phases: in its Imperial phase, its settler-colonial phase, its apartheid phase and now in its neo-colonial phase (or post-apartheid phase). Denial of this objective truth is, unfortunately, ahistorical and will be entertained by those who want to delay the inevitable reality that we must all face: the reality of the matter of the restoration of the dignity of the majority of the citizens of this country through the most fundamental conduit to economic power, the land.

This debate on the land question is about the restoration of economic power and all of the opportunities that flow from land possession, which black South Africans have been denied. Nothing else. It is a craving for natural justice, which may be delayed but unavoidable. This is why the matter is so emotive. Surely, those who are at the forefront of the fight for this economic restoration understand this fundamental fact? This is not an exercise in political symbolism or the massaging of the collective political ego of the dispossessed. It is about ridding the poor of the practical economic optionlessness of landlessness. It is a cry for direct ownership of the land, not symbolic ownership via a trust, the state or some other questionable proxy.

Its inevitability is guaranteed and those who have benefitted from the landlessness of the masses are afraid of the looming loss of lucre and the ensuing judgement, while those who have been victimised by this reality are bursting at the seams of patience with anticipation of a 'better life' and justice.

The ANC, particularly its leadership, is not exempt from this fear and the EFF and its leadership know this all too well. They smell blood and are stepping in for the kill, or perhaps an alliance. Whatever works to bring them closer to the trough.

Like its Zimbabwean counterpart the Zanu PF under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, the ANC’s leadership ignored the pressing question of land reform until political pressures forced them to act. Since independence they postured, setting up all manner of land reform departments, committees and policies while they enjoyed the creature comforts and gravy trains of recent liberation without doing anything essential or substantial in relation to the restoration of land to the masses.

In the case of Zanu PF, after enriching himself and his political acolytes and drunk with the wine of greed and the looting of state resources, Robert Mugabe, upon being challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, resorted to the gutter politics of the thuggery of racial land grabs, blaming the British and citing their betrayal of the Lancaster agreements. They neglected to highlight the very lucrative relationship they (the Zanu leadership) had enjoyed with the British government for 30 years until the internal politics of their own country, driven by the legitimate dissatisfaction and poverty of the masses, drove fear into their greedy hearts.

Likewise the ANC, in the last 24 years of 'liberation' hob-knobbed with corporate South Africa, the mining companies, agricultural giants and land developers, neglecting the pressing land question. The giddy years of Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation at all cost, the jobless growth of Thabo Mbeki’s years of 'economic growth' which benefitted only the political elite and the select few BEE functionaries (Cyril was a primary beneficiary of this era) and finally, the openly corrupt Zuma years of state capture which characterised the ANC’s collaborative partnership with monopoly capital at the expense of the landless masses are instructive. These are the years of deliberate inaction with regards to the land question in South Africa by the ANC.

Julius, together with the present leadership of the EFF, was also a very integral part of the looting of state resources during his years as the undisputed head of ANC’s Youth League. Who can forget his unbridled spending spree on farms and Sandton-based properties during his years in the ANC while he is alleged to have been earning a meagre salary, the yet-unresolved issues of the looting of the Limpopo government etc. Yes, he was as much a participant in the looting until he was no longer the useful idiot of his political principals. Indeed these are old friends.

Now we are fed a cock and bull story about Section 25 of the Constitution and its alleged hindrance of the redistribution of land to the perpetual tenants of this country, the black masses, because of its call for compensation in expropriation by those who seek to be the people’s perpetual landlords. Nothing could be further from the truth! The ANC, like its predecessor the National Party government, has overseen the dispossession of black people since it took over government in 1994. Without compensation!

Each time it awarded prospecting and mining rights to any one of their mining company partners in the various mineral-rich rural areas across our country, it underscored the continuation of this diabolical policy. None of the land that was expropriated for these purposes ever saw the compensation of the dispossessed people in those rural communities. The same humiliation of rural communities continues each time agri–giants seek land for further farming rights. The same is true for land developers of different types. The landless people of these areas are simply moved for the tractors to start ploughing or excavating without any compensation. May I add that these communities are usually the subjects of traditional leaders who are the 'custodians' of the land who, like the Ingonyama Trust, benefit from heavy rentals from the land they lease to the historical inhabitants of those lands. The rural people in these areas do not own the land, they are perpetual tenants. So they are unable to access the economic and commercial benefits of ownership. No compensation is ever offered to these communities each time government, business and traditional leaders collaborate to dispossess them of their land, as has been the case for centuries now.

Hell, when Jacob Zumas’s Nkandla home was built, local families were simply removed from their ancestral land to make way for the presidential homestead, with the blessing of the king who owns that land via the Ingonyama Trust. No compensation was offered to these families for their inconvenience and dispossession. So the lie that expropriation of land has been hindered by Section 25 of our Constitution is blatantly obvious. Expropriation of land has been taking place without compensation even under the present government. It has only been against the poor black and defenceless people of this country.

A further deliberate conflation of matters has been the association of the ANC’s 'willing buyer, willing seller' policy with Section 25 of the Constitution. The Constitution makes no mention at all of this corrupt policy of underhanded back-hands of collaborative corruption by government officials, farm owners and land claimants in the looting of state coffers. The evidence of graft at the hands of this policy is overwhelming. No, Section 25 is not responsible for the last 24 years’ inaction regarding land reform.

Therefore the sudden agreement between the EFF and the ANC raises many questions. Who really is to benefit from their rhetoric? Furthermore, a casual look at the EFF’s land policy reveals that the stated aim of the EFF is to nationalise all land in South Africa owned by both blacks and whites. The state, presumably under their control, will then lease land to 'fit persons' and institutions according to a criteria that they will determine for no longer than a renewable 25 years. Again making sure that the landless never own their land, but remain perpetual tenants in the country of their birth. Why do they not simply transfer ownership of the land to its inhabitants via the awarding of title deeds? This is deeply concerning.

Clearly, there is no genuine political will to empower the landless, but a concerted effort to centralise land ownership amongst the influential and the rich by both the ANC and the EFF. South Africa’s landless masses would do well to be vigilant against the charlatans who seek to keep them dispossessed.

Aubrey Masango is a presenter on Talk Radio 702. Follow him on Twitter: @702Aubrey