The ANC has always claimed a unique entitlement to act, speak, and rule on behalf of South Africa’s black majority. This arrogance, along with its socialist ideology, has long made it extraordinarily resistant to heeding what citizens have to say about the pressing policy issues of the day.

When public objection is strong enough, however, then the ANC backs down. This is what has happened, at least for now, on the pending expropriation-without-compensation constitutional amendment bill (the EWC Bill) being drawn up by an Ad Hoc Committee (the committee) at the behest of the National Assembly.

‘Time bomb’

Ten days ago – when it became clear that the committee could not finalise the EWC Bill by its deadline of 31st May 2021 – committee chair Dr Mathole Motshekga was adamant that an extension longer than 30 days could not be tolerated. ‘Failure to resolve the land question would be tantamount to planting a time bomb in one’s own house…and bring[ing] the whole house down’, he proclaimed.

But business leaders objected so strongly to new ANC and EFF clauses in the EWC Bill aimed at vesting all land in the custodianship of the state that President Cyril Ramaphosa felt obliged to intervene.

Far from acknowledging that his ANC colleagues on the committee had proposed the insertion into Section 25 of the Constitution of custodianship clauses little different from those put forward by the EFF, Mr Ramaphosa tried to distance the ANC from the custodianship idea at a media briefing last Thursday.

He also claimed that the ANC has always wanted to give black people individual land ownership. This, however, is contradicted by the State Land Lease and Disposal Policy (SLLDP) of 2013 – under which the government retains all land acquired for redistribution for a good half century before any transfer into private ownership is contemplated.

This policy explains why the government reneged on its 2002 contract to sell successful Limpopo farmer David Rakgase the state land he had been leasing for decades. It also explains why the ANC was so determined to resist Mr Rakgase when, in 2018, he finally sought the help of the courts in holding the government to its earlier agreement.

According to the government’s papers in the Rakgase case, the SLLDP policy is based on the ‘principle that black farming households and communities may obtain 30-year leases, renewable for a further 20 years, before the state will consider transferring ownership to them’. No exception was allowed for Mr Rakgase, despite both the 2002 agreement and the fact that he was already 77 years old and likely to die long before the expiry of a 50-year lease period.

That the president was willing, on the surface at least, to jettison the SLLDP so summarily last week shows how effective vocal and determined objection can be. Especially as the ANC’s pursuit of its ideological objectives is always governed by ‘the balance of forces’ it encounters.

Tactical retreat

If resistance to a proposed dirigiste intervention is limited, the ANC will ignore this opposition and forge ahead. If, however, resistance is strong and resolute, then the ruling party will draw back. Its aim in any such retreat is always to take one step backward so that it can take two steps forward in the future. No ANC retreat should thus be taken at face value, for each is simply a tactical regrouping aimed at securing a future advance.

For now, however, the ANC sees a need to retreat on the EWC Bill. It wants time to defuse resistance, use Mr Ramaphosa’s fading reputation as a real reformer to proffer more false reassurances, and revitalise its propaganda in pursuit of the EWC goal.

The impact of this about-face on Dr Motshekga and other ANC committee members has been considerable. An extension, not for a month but rather until 30th August, has been sought and obtained from the National Assembly. Serious consideration is reportedly being given to a parliamentary legal opinion advising that:

  • further public consultation on the proposed custodianship clauses – and any other major changes to the EWC Bill – is necessary; while
  • it would be prudent to seek an extension of the committee’s present mandate, which is simply to make ‘explicit’ what is implicit in Section 25.

It is still too early to tell what decisions will in future be made. Much will depend on whether current opposition to the EWC Bill and the state custodianship concept remains vocal and steadfast. For now, however, claimed urgency has yielded to evident expediency, for the ANC needs time for damage control.

ANC out of touch

That public criticism has had such impact in this sphere makes it all the sadder that the ANC is generally so indifferent to what ordinary people think about land reform and other issues.

That ANC policy and ideology are entirely out of sync with public opinion on many key issues, including land reform, has been evident from IRR opinion polls carried out over many years.

The IRR’s most recent poll was conducted in November and December 2020 – at much the same time as the EWC Bill was being gazetted for public comment. Yet, even in these circumstances, fewer than 5% of black respondents identified land reform as a key unresolved problem. By contrast, some 56% of black people saw unemployment as a major issue of this kind, underscoring how much more pressing joblessness is to most South Africans.  

In addition, when the IRR asked people to choose between ‘more land reform’ and ‘more jobs and better education’ as the best way to improve their lives, 4% of black respondents opted for the former, whereas 72% preferred the latter.

Similarly, when the IRR asked people whether they preferred a political party which promised faster economic growth and more jobs, or one which promised land expropriation without compensation, the outcomes were again the opposite of what ANC propaganda claims. For some 81% of black respondents preferred growth and jobs, whereas only 15% opted for EWC.

The ANC is equally out of touch with public opinion on the issue of racism. The ruling party has long portrayed racism as the country’s most important problem, but most black South Africans disagree.

This was evident even in 2001, a scant seven years after the political transition, when the IRR’s first opinion poll found that only 5% of black respondents saw racism as a key unresolved problem – as against the 58% of black people who identified unemployment in this way.

Subsequent opinion polls commissioned by the IRR from 2015 to 2020 have all found much the same. Each time black respondents have flagged unemployment as the most important problem, and by a large margin. Each time, the proportion of black people identifying racism as a key issue has been below 6%. In 2019 it was less than 2%, while in the 2020 opinion poll it stood at 3% – and this despite a plethora of racial rhetoric from the ANC, the EFF, and many in the media.

The IRR’s 2020 poll also asked people whether they had ‘personally experienced any form of racism in the past five years’. The answers here were particularly striking, for 81% of black people said they had not personally experienced racism in this period. Some 71% of black respondents also said that ‘the different races need each other for progress and there should be full opportunity for all’.

Commitment to the NDR

The ANC’s disdain for the views of ordinary South Africans on both racism and land reform is rooted in the organisation’s long-standing commitment to a National Democratic Revolution (NDR) aimed at taking the country, by incremental steps, from a capitalist to a socialist and then communist future.

Particularly vital to the NDR is the notion of ‘colonialism of a special type’ (CST). According to the CST concept, South Africa’s white minority remains an illegitimate colonial oppressor, while the black majority is still its exploited victim. White prosperity or ‘privilege’ thus has nothing to do with education, skills, entrepreneurship, or technological advance. Rather, it derives solely from the ruthless oppression of the black majority.

The deeply flawed concept is integral to NDR ideology. It also provides the key rationale for stripping whites of their supposedly ‘stolen’ land and other assets via the EWC Bill and other measures – and so changing the ownership and control of the economy.

The ANC’s constant emphasis on racism as the country’s most important problem is needed to buttress the CST concept. Both notions are also highly useful in diverting attention away from the fact that black property ownership is to be terminated too as the NDR proceeds.

Black property is equally at risk, of course, because (as Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848) ‘the theory of the Communists may be summed up in one sentence: abolition of private property’. However, it would obviously be more difficult to obtain any endorsement of EWC, even from rank-and-file ANC members, if this reality was broadly understood.

For now, a public outcry against nationalisation via custodianship has compelled the ANC to draw back on the EWC Bill. That pressure must be maintained if the SACP/ANC alliance is not to push on towards its NDR goals undeterred by warnings from business – or the contrary perspectives of the black majority it pretends to represent.

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