Among the many promises made by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC’s 8th January anniversary statement was a pledge to ‘provide land to those who work it and who need it’, so as to ‘help address asset poverty’.

Land reform would therefore be accelerated – partly through ‘the mechanism of expropriation without compensation’ – and the ‘relevant amendments…to section 25 of the Constitution’ would be ‘passed without delay’.

Added the president: ‘The return of the land will happen and it will be done in a manner that promotes economic growth and sustains food security… Critical in this regard will be our focus on effective support for those who have acquired agricultural land.’

So fundamental are the flaws in this assessment of the EWC issue that it’s hard to know where to begin in exposing them.

Two of the major falsehoods are that EWC will ‘return’ the land to ‘the people’ and ‘address asset poverty’. Land expropriated without compensation will be owned by the state, not black people. Nor will such land later be transferred to individual black South Africans – for the ANC’s declared policy is to keep land in state ownership. Land acquired via EWC will be held by the state as a patronage tool and used to deepen dependency on the ruling party. This is the fraud at the heart of the EWC idea.

EWC will also erode the property rights of the 7.5 million black South Africans who own brick-and-mortar homes (though often without the title deeds the ANC could have provided if it had really wanted to overcome their ‘asset poverty’). In addition, EWC will undermine the customary land rights of some 17 million black people.

All these individuals will confront the risk of having their homes or customary plots expropriated without compensation by cash-strapped and often venal municipalities – many of which need new ways to fill their coffers now that the amount owing to them by non-paying ‘ratepayers’ has risen to more than R165bn.

The president’s claim that EWC will be achieved ‘in a manner that promotes economic growth’ is so nonsensical it needs no further comment. His assertions of ‘effective support’ for emergent farmers and ‘sustained’ food security are equally absurd when most transferred farms have soon fallen out of production.

Underpinning Mr Ramaphosa’s rhetoric, moreover, are two implicit assumptions: that EWC is crucial to the success of land reform, and that land reform is a key priority among black South Africans. Both are wrong.

That land reform has not been a priority is evident from the paltry sums allocated to land acquisition and the explanatory comments made by former president Thabo Mbeki in April 2019.

As the High Level Panel of Parliament notes in its November 2017 report, ‘the land reform budget, expressed as a percentage of national expenditure, has generally been between 0.15% and 0.4%, reaching a peak of 0.44%…in 2008/09 and then declining to 0.2% in the current financial year’.

Why such small amounts? According to Mr Mbeki, there were other priorities for South Africans and their government. Says the former president: ‘I don’t think there was ever any sense that…there is huge pressure of land hunger for agricultural purposes among the black people.’

Annual IRR opinion polls dating back to 2015 confirm this too. Even against the background of escalating ANC and EFF demands for EWC, few black respondents (less than 2% on average from 2016 to 2018) have identified land reform as a key concern.

In the IRR’s most recent opinion poll, conducted in late 2019 – at much the same time as the EWC constitutional amendment bill was being drawn up – only 2.8% of black respondents identified land reform as a key unresolved problem.

Moreover, though 3.6% of black respondents saw ‘more land reform’ as the best way to improve people’s lives, this small proportion was far outstripped by the 71% of black people who identified ‘more jobs and better education’ as the keys to upward mobility.

The assumption that EWC will turn land reform from failure to success is equally flawed. In the words of the High Level Panel, the cost of land acquisition ‘has not been the most serious constraint on land reform…to date’. Instead, other factors have ‘proved more serious stumbling blocks’. Key constraints include ‘increasing evidence of corruption by officials, the diversion of the land reform budgets to elites…and a lack of training and capacity’ among beneficiaries.

In the public hearings convened by the Panel, anger over corruption and elite capture was palpable. People spoke of ‘having been betrayed by government officials and politicians’. They ‘expressed deep mistrust’ as to the motives of this elite, ‘accusing them of diverting farms and other resources to themselves, at the expense of…the poor and dispossessed’.

The EWC demand thus has little to do with the failures of land reform. Instead, those failures are being used by the ruling party as a pretext for the nationalisation of land (and, in time, of other property) that it has long desired.

The ANC’s determination to embark on EWC can be traced at least as far back as 1955, when the Freedom Charter called for the ‘re-division of the land among those who work it’ and for the nationalisation of ‘mineral wealth,…banks, and monopoly industry’.

The real aim behind the EWC constitutional amendment bill is to allow expanding state ownership over land and other ‘means of production’. This is vital both to the ANC/SACP ‘leftists’ intent on advancing the national democratic revolution (NDR) and to the ‘looters’ seeking largely to line their own pockets.

The ANC has been working steadily towards the EWC goal ever since the 1994 ‘democratic breakthrough’ gave it the ‘prime prize’ of ‘state power’. It is thus largely coincidental – though deeply ironic – that its long-standing push towards EWC has proceeded further under Mr Ramaphosa, the supposed reformer, than it did under President Jacob Zuma, widely seen as the arch ‘looter’.

Under Mr Zuma, ANC MPs in 2017 rejected the EFF demand for EWC, with ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu saying: ‘Section 25 of our Constitution is more of an enabler for land reform than a barrier. We failed to take advantage of its provisions. Full stop. Blaming the Constitution for the embarrassingly slow pace of land reform is both disingenuous and scapegoating. We failed, finish and klaar.’

Under Mr Ramaphosa, by contrast, ANC MPs in 2018 endorsed the EFF demand for EWC. In addition, the president himself prejudged a parliamentary process by announcing in July 2018 that an EWC amendment to the Constitution would indeed be made.

Mr Ramaphosa is now trying to lull the country into a false sense of security. The EWC constitutional amendment bill he wants Parliament to ‘pass without delay’ is not a remedy for land reform failures. Nor will it counter the ‘asset poverty’ of black people. Instead, it will hasten the country’s economic implosion and make all South Africans ever more dependent on a corrupt and self-serving political elite.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Great analysis but I would like to add another dimension if I may.

    Why the need to change S25 at all? The Constitutional Court all but eviscerated the concept of private ownership in Agri SA – the mineral rights case. The minority was correct, and the majority went for a technical dismissal for failing to use the mechanisms in the challenged Act.

    What the court did do was introduce the falsehood of “custodianship”. You will note the rhetoric of the ANC and the likes of De Lille in talking about “custodianship”. I think it was Moseneke who stated openly that a change was not necessary and, given the Court’s NDR focus (it has never, ever found against the State on the principals of the NDR, only on technical matters or where the law is so badly drafted another attempt must be made)

    Observe at the beginning of Ramaposer’s tenure, how eager the Dept was to begin stealing (EWC’ing) land and put it into “custodianship” as invited by the ConCourt.

    However, if the Dept had done so and won (which it would have), the ConCourt would lose all legitimacy in the eyes of the people. This is not a court to protect the people from the State, it is there to further the State’s power. Such is obvious if you trace the case law – but the shoeless and unhorsed aren’t really that aware of it – unless you make it obvious.

    If it loses legitimacy, then the enforcement of the NDR faces such massive hurdles that it is imperilled.

    So the only way to protect the legitimacy of the ConCourt is to pass this amendment first and then the court can throw up its hands and say “separation of powers, and the law gives us not choice as we are bound to it”.

    So I see this as the mechanism to protect the legitimacy of the ConCourt and provide the “legal cover” for state-wide theft.

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