In the first of a monthly feature, IRR Campaigns Manager Hermann Pretorius gives an account from the front line of the battle of ideas.
What a year this month of January has been. Education. Property Rights. The banks. Agri-business. And 2020 has only just got into its rhythm as a make-or-break year for South Africa. 2020 is, as they say, the big one – perhaps not the beginning of the end, but certainly the end of the beginning. And, to borrow from another Englishman of note: if we can keep our heads now, while all about us are losing theirs, then we’ll be a great country, my friend!
The year started with education at the top of the list – as is usual when the back-to-school jingles and sales pop up everywhere. Continuing our work from last year on making sure politicians are held accountable in the education arena, we published two reports, Thrown Under The School Bus and Freeing Education. In the first, we look at the failures of the approach of Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to education, making the case that the ANC very much looks to him as a pioneer in this terrain. If you want to understand the future of ANC education policy, look no further than Mr Lesufi. His successes and failures are the ones the Class of 2020 will be living with over the next twelve years.
Having made a diagnosis of the problems in education, our second report, Freeing Education, presented simple, common-sense, practical and easily implementable policy solutions – a prescription, as it were, to get parents back to being in charge of education. Parents, not politicians, know what is best for their children. It really is as simple as that. Common sense and IRR research underscore this obvious truth. School vouchers to give poorer South Africans a chance to escape the cruel post-code lottery, more powers to School Governing Bodies to strengthen the voice of parents in holding schools to account, the handing over of crucial disciplinary powers to school principals – these things have proven track records of success, and by advocating unashamedly for parents to take back control, we really got the national conversation to focus on the question: if government is such a big part of the problem, why on earth do they think they should be a big part of the solution?
Our attention, however, and that of all freedom-loving South Africans, soon turned to the issue of our time: property rights – the issue of expropriation without compensation (EWC).
After careful research and consideration, we launched our first EWC campaign of 2020 by taking the fight to the banks. Isn’t it odd that the financial sector has remained so quiet and aloof since the issue of EWC raised its ugly head? Well, no longer. By launching a simple, yet powerful open-letter campaign, we posed a crucial question to the big banks in SA: would they expect South Africans to pay off any bond on a property that has been expropriated by the state without compensation? A simple yes/no would have sufficed. But, no. Corporate South Africa sometimes needs vigorous prodding before taking to the field to fight the real issues on the right side – the side of ordinary South Africans who want to live free.
The response to the open-letter campaign to the banks was quite something. Newspaper articles caught on to the IRR’s simple question, and the silence or obfuscation from the banks made one thing clear: we as South Africans are going to have to demand answers – big business and big government are not going to stand up for our liberty.
Then, after consultation with farmers across the country, we threw an important, perhaps unorthodox spanner in the works: we challenged the agri-business sector. Not the farmers and their incredible teams, but the big corporates, the entities with letterheads and expensive logos.
As a bit of background to our agri-business campaign, I must share a few facts.
In May 2019, the Final Report of the Presidential Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture was published – establishing the basis for the government’s position in favour of EWC. Oddly enough, though, the representative of the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa (Agbiz) signed the majority report. This is a most mysterious fact. Agbiz, a body representing the big corporates who depend on the agricultural community of South Africa, somehow managed to fudge whether it supported the government’s position. How is that possible? In response to the IRR starting to ask important questions regarding Agbiz’s view of the government’s position on EWC, they merely responded with a dodge, Agbiz CEO John Purchase saying the organisation ‘won’t even respond’ to the IRR’s questions on where it stands. How difficult would it have been to unambiguously state that Agbiz is completely opposed to the government’s position on EWC? The uncomfortable fact is, of course, that Agbiz’s sole representative on the Presidential Advisory Panel did sign up to the government’s approach. We can only say that there are more things to Agbiz’s position than meet the eye. The sooner they come clean, the better. Our agricultural community deserves nothing less.
Having ramped up pressure on the banks and on the big corporates in agri-business, we knew it was time to give Parliament a visit again.
On 30 January, the IRR delivered to Parliament the names of over 200 000 South Africans – your names, your voices – who oppose the government’s attempts to undermine property rights through EWC. I, along with my colleagues Marius Roodt, Nick Lorimer, Michael Morris, and Alex Weiss, spent the day talking to the media and making sure the rusty cogs of Parliament turned and that our delivery was accepted. Then, we learned that the deadline, originally 31 January, had been changed to 29 February. Our first EWC victory of 2020 – and, with your help, not our last.
Parliament must be aware that there is a groundswell of opposition to the policy of EWC. While land reform and restitution are vital in South Africa, these objectives must – and can – be achieved without destroying property rights, which are a vital cornerstone of any democratic and prosperous society.
The Bill of Rights and the property rights framework exist to protect South Africans against governments repeating the injustices of the past. The current attempt to change the Constitution threatens the livelihood and property of countless South Africans, not least the more than 8 million black, coloured, and Indian South Africans who have become proud homeowners – something too long denied them and now threatened by a government dedicated to an ideology blatantly at odds with the freedoms of our constitutional dispensation.
With the deadline extended, we will now focus on convincing another 800 000 South Africans to join us in our efforts. With one million signatures to deliver to Parliament at the end of the consultation process, the message that South Africans will not stand for the mutilation of the Bill of Rights will be louder and clearer than ever. Pressure on those with political power achieves the small victories that keep the ambitions of liberty alive. South Africans want to live free – the IRR’s mission is to achieve that for all South Africans.
We’ll keep you updated on our progress in the battle of ideas. It is at times when people are losing their heads that those who keep them can lay the foundations for a new beginning. We are doing exactly that – and only because we have your support. Thank you a million times over. We will not let you down. To quote my favourite drinker of whisky and smoker of cigars: we will never surrender.
Hermann Pretorius, IRR Campaigns Manager