There is only one thing to talk about …

Frans Cronje | Aug 15, 2019
There is only one thing to talk about – and that is how to stop expropriation without compensation (EWC). It is the greatest threat not just to agriculture and to the broader economy, but to the entire constitutional edifice, to civil rights, and the rule of law that this country has faced in 25 years. If we do not defeat the threat, we doom South Africa to a future of poverty, and failure, and chaos. How is it possible that we have reached a point where such a statement can be made? The answer is, slowly and deliberately.

This is the message I conveyed to members of Free State Agriculture in Bloemfontein on 7 August. The following is the text of my speech.

There is only one thing to talk about – and that is how to stop expropriation without compensation (EWC). It is the greatest threat not just to agriculture and to the broader economy, but to the entire constitutional edifice, to civil rights, and the rule of law that this country has faced in 25 years. If we do not defeat the threat, we doom South Africa to a future of poverty, and failure, and chaos.

How is it possible that we have reached a point where such a statement can be made?

The answer is, slowly and deliberately.

Over the past 12 years, my analyst colleagues tracked more than 30 policy, regulatory, and legislative attempts to undermine property rights.

  1. These began with the 2007 attack on the willing-buyer/willing-seller policy at the African National Congress (ANC) conference in Polokwane.
  2. Those attacks in turn informed the contents of the draft Expropriation Bill of 2008.
  3. This in turn informed the dropping of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy in 2010.
  4. Then came the agriculture green paper of 2011, which forewarned of every risk from land ceilings to EWC – all of which would be drafted into policy and legislation within the next six years.
  5. A year later came the 20% proposal in the National Development Plan.
  6. The 50/50 proposal came hot on its heels.
  7. This was followed by the Land Restitution Amendment Act of 2014 that sought to provoke hundreds of thousands of new land claims without the budget to finance them.
  8. Thereafter came the Property Valuation Act via which the State sought to lessen that budgetary bind.
  9. This was followed by the Agri Land Bill that sought to make the State custodian of all agricultural land, as the Green Paper had warned – thereby escaping any budgetary bind at all.
  10. Then came the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill that would cap farm sizes and force farmers to surrender the surplus.
  11. This was followed by the proposed amendment to the Constitution.
  12. And now, finally, there are the recommendations of the presidential advisory panel.

Yet even this chronology contains just 12 markers in the pattern – all of which built one upon the other in a systematic and ordered manner.

This policy process did not happen in isolation but in parallel with a still continuing campaign of racial nationalist incitement and propaganda; that farmers stole the land; are guilty of original sin; evicted a million people from their homes; beat and rape their staff; sabotage land reform; drive up food prices; and, through all of that and more, carry much of the responsibility for the poverty, unemployment, and social tensions that now threaten the future of every South African. The purpose of propaganda is stigmatisation, to make you ‘the other’ – so that society will lose its ability to empathise with you, and so that no-one will come to your defence when you come under violent or legislative attack – as has now happened.

All of the above has been distilled to two related legislative and policy processes.

The first of these is the passage of the Expropriation Bill. 

My colleague, Dr Anthea Jeffery, explains the workings of the Bill to me as follows:

“The Bill is intended to complement a constitutional amendment by setting out some of the circumstances in which ‘nil’ compensation may be paid.

According to the Bill, ‘it may be just and equitable for nil compensation to be paid’ for expropriated land which:

  • is used by a labour tenant (one who works for the owner for part of every year in return for the land he uses);
  • has been ‘abandoned’ by its owner;
  • is held ‘for purely speculative purposes’;
  • is worth less than the state subsidies from which it has benefited; or
  • is owned by a state-owned entity which consents to the expropriation.

This list, with its five examples, is intended to reassure South Africans that EWC will be sparingly used and justifiably applied. However, the circumstances in which EWC may be deployed are expressly ‘not limited’ to those set out in the Bill. They may thus extend far beyond this short list.

Of critical importance is that the ANC’s reassurances that the ‘nil’ compensation provisions in the proposed Expropriation Bill of 2019 will be used sparingly overlooks the definition of ‘expropriation’ in the Bill, which has been carefully crafted to allow nil compensation for a host of ‘indirect’ expropriations as well.

To understand this, some definitions are required. A ‘direct’ expropriation arises where the State takes ownership of property. An ‘indirect’ expropriation could be either a ‘custodial’ taking or what is called a ‘regulatory’ expropriation.

  • A ‘custodial’ taking arises where the State takes custodianship of property, as it has already done for all mineral and water resources.
  • A ‘regulatory’ expropriation arises when the State, for instance, imposes price controls on a product, thereby preventing its owner from selling at market value. In this situation, the State does not acquire ownership of the product, but its regulations result in a loss to the owner.

Under customary international law, as well as most bilateral investment treaties (BITs), expropriation is defined in a broad way to include both ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ expropriations. In South Africa, Section 25 of the Constitution (the property clause) does not define ‘expropriation’. However, the word – especially as contained in this guarantee of property rights – would generally be understood as having its usual wide meaning.

However, the Constitutional Court’s majority judgment in the Agri SA case in 2013 has already begun the process of narrowing this meaning. Here, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng effectively ruled that expropriation requires the acquisition of ownership by the State. This meant that the State’s ‘assumption of custodianship’ over a mining right (the issue before him) did not qualify as an expropriation or merit the payment of any compensation.

On this reasoning, further custodial takings by the State would not qualify as expropriations or merit compensation and the Expropriation Bill includes a definition of ‘expropriation’ which is clearly based on Mogoeng’s ruling.

The second process is that concerning the amendment to Section 25 of the Constitution to allow EWC in appropriate circumstances. Some commentators seem to think it matters little if the Constitution is changed to allow EWC because the present formula for ‘just and equitable’ compensation could already result in zero compensation in certain circumstances. This is a dangerous fallacy.

The present constitutional formula would yield a zero result only in exceptional instances – and generally solely where the market value of the property is zero or very close to this. Think, for example, of mineral-depleted and badly contaminated mining land that is honeycombed with tunnels (creating a major risk of subsidence), and which cannot be used for housing or any other purpose without costly prior rehabilitation.

The current formula, which is contained in Section 25(3), says that compensation on expropriation must be ‘just and equitable’, and that it must ‘reflect an equitable balance between the public interest and the interests of those affected’.

This wording is very important – particularly in its reference to ‘an equitable balance’ – because it underscores the fact that individual owners cannot be made to foot the bill for land reform. This is a national responsibility which must be met by the government out of tax revenues.

The present formula goes on to state that the necessary ‘equitable balance’ must be found by looking at all the relevant circumstances. It lists five which must be taken into account, but it also makes it clear that other relevant factors – for example, the need to compensate people for direct losses resulting from expropriation – must be taken into consideration, too. (Such losses would include moving costs and any loss of income from a farm or other property.)

The five listed factors are market value, along with the ‘current use’ of the property, the history of its acquisition, the extent of direct state subsidy in its acquisition or capital improvement, and the purpose of the expropriation. These last four factors are often difficult to quantify, but cannot trump the overarching need for that ‘equitable balance’.

The Constitution also says that ‘the amount of the compensation’ and the time and manner of its payment must either have been agreed by the parties or ‘decided or approved by a court’. This is another vital safeguard, for it gives the ultimate decision-making power on compensation to the courts, rather than the ANC’s deployed cadres.

Amending the Constitution to allow for EWC will remove these key safeguards. If the compensation due is zero, then Section 25(3) – which deals with the amount of compensation to be paid – will have no relevance. The current need for ‘an equitable balance’ will no longer apply. Nor will the courts have any role in deciding on compensation. Hence, all the safeguards now contained in Section 25 will fall away.

A constitutional amendment will allow the passage of ever more damaging statutes, each of which could be adopted by a simple majority in the National Assembly. Once the EWC principle has been conceded, there will be nothing to prevent the adoption of the current Expropriation Bill or the steady ratcheting up of a succession of expropriation laws providing for zero compensation in ever-widening instances.

In addition, the wording of the constitutional amendment could be broad enough to allow a ‘big-bang’ approach right from the start. Take, for example, the recent report of the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture. The panel recommended that Section 25 should indeed be amended and suggested the wording. It proposes that Section 25(2) should have an extra sub-section (Section 25(2)(c)) added to it, which would say:

‘Parliament must enact legislation determining instances that warrant expropriation without compensation for purposes of land reform’.

Once the Constitution has been amended in this way, Parliament (by a 51% majority) could pass legislation vesting the custodianship of all land in the state for the benefit of the people, and adding that, if any court were to find that this amounts to an expropriation, then this is ‘an instance that warrants expropriation without compensation’.

Those who now argue that an EWC amendment will make no difference will find they have opened the way to precisely what the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and many in the ANC so clearly want. In this situation, all land will vest in the State as custodian, existing title deeds will ‘mean nothing’, people will no longer be able to use their homes to build up household wealth, and all individuals, companies, and farmers will need land-use contracts with the State – which will be open to termination when deployed cadres so decide.

Land will then become a key patronage tool in the hands of the ANC, and will be used by it to cement dependency on the State and keep itself in power. Political freedom will decline, while critics of the government could face detention, torture, and death – as they do both in Venezuela and in Zimbabwe.

The notion that an EWC constitutional amendment is unimportant serves the ANC’s self-serving objectives very well – but is way out of touch with reality.

Regrettably, the panel’s report makes many other damaging proposals, too. Last week, Anthea Jeffery briefed me on the panel report as follows:

The panel endorses EWC in supposedly limited circumstances. It lists ten instances in which zero compensation would be appropriate: for example, for land which is ‘abandoned’ or held ‘purely for speculative purposes’. But it also makes it clear that the circumstances meriting ‘nil’ compensation are ‘not limited to’ the ones it lists.

As noted, the panel further suggests that Section 25 of the Constitution should indeed be amended to ‘move away’ from the mandatory compensation for which it now provides. This is inordinately dangerous, for all the reasons earlier outlined.

The panel also recommends a new ‘compensation policy’, under which compensation will range from ‘zero’ to ‘minimal’ to ‘substantial’ to ‘market-related’, depending on the circumstances. This suggests that market value will become an exception to be allowed sparingly, if at all – for even ‘market-related’ compensation need not be the same as market value.

The panel further suggests that all municipalities, ‘with the input of local residents’, must identify well-located and appropriately serviced land that is suitable for redistribution. ‘Individual owners of properties that meet the criteria of land required for redistribution...may [then] offer their land as donations, or enter into negotiations with the State, failing which the State may proceed to expropriate’.

This is fundamentally coercive. It also guarantees that expropriation will become the favoured means of land acquisition, despite the panel’s statement that it should be only one of several mechanisms. In practice, this approach will also make it very difficult for banks to accept land as collateral for loans – as virtually any land in any part of the country could be identified for redistribution in this way and then expropriated at well below market value.

Just imagine the chaos that would be unleashed upon the countryside if every municipality – many of which are very corrupt – started trying to expropriate land helter-skelter. 

Dr Jeffery concludes as follows:

Overall, the panel’s report reflects an infinite belief in the benevolent power of the State to direct and control the use of land. To maintain such a belief in South Africa is astonishing, for, here, pervasive state incompetence, callousness, venality, and corruption are glaringly apparent. Expand the powers of the State in the ways the panel proposes – and these core characteristics of ANC rule will quickly spread into the space provided.

What does this mean in practice? What is going to happen?

While I would not write off the risk, I don’t think that the cliché of invading mobs pouring over the hill is the primary thing to fear. Our polls reveal that less than 10% of people see land reform as a policy priority for the government. I can also tell you that land reform did not feature in the top-10 issues that South Africans saw as priorities in a poll conducted by the ANC. Rich urban people think land reform is more important than poor rural people. The question of land reform only threatens South Africa’s political stability if politicians use it to intentionally whip up racial nationalist incitement in order to deflect attention from the government’s failures in education and job creation.      

While politicians have incited sporadic invasions, and the government has proved powerless to stop them, we think it is sincere – at this time – in wanting a more ordered process to be followed, which is why it is trying to change the law and the Constitution.

There are several reasons why the government is reluctant to incite mass anarchy in society.  

The first is a concession; even the more radical politicians concede that the State does not have the authority or the capacity to ensure that any revolutionary violence is directed only at the target group – in this case, farmers. Spark a programme of anarchic violence and Luthuli House itself could easily be consumed in the resulting inferno. This is not Zimbabwe, where disciplined party cadres and security forces could direct the violence.   

The second is a selfish consideration; that such invasions would destroy the value of commercial farming enterprises, leaving very little to loot. If you are trying to extort the value from commercial agriculture, it does not help to first burn it to the ground.

The third is a longer-term stratagem; that any step which sharply accelerates South Africa’s economic decline will further undermine the party’s electoral prospects. The relationship between the two is quite well understood. There is nothing like the cliché of mobs chasing farmers off their farms to send an emerging market economy hurtling into the realm of the banana republic.  

So, intentionally incited anarchic invasions pose a risk – but, at this time, perhaps not the primary risk. We have long warned that the deeper immediate danger is that the State assumes custodianship of land along the lines of what it did with mineral rights and water rights. The intention is not to ‘seize the means of production’ – by inciting the mob to pour over the hill – but rather, as my colleague, Russel Lamberti, argues, ‘to regulate those means’ to the advantage of the State and the party. It is a method and principle that can be, and in many respects already is being, expanded to many sectors of the economy. Each time, the play is the same. The State develops regulatory power over an economic sector and uses that power to force businesses in that sector to surrender some of the value they produce. 

In the case of agriculture, the play might be something along these lines; put in motion a process that will see the State effectively seize all land as custodian; offer leases to existing property owners; and then start enforcing conditions on the renewal of those leases – such as that you must surrender X% of your enterprise to an empowerment ‘partner’. At first, it will seem manageable, even pragmatic – a neat solution to a problem, a means of avoiding the pending chaos and delivering on the policy certainty that investors crave. But be careful. Sometimes the incentive politicians have to create chaos and cause uncertainty is that they can intervene to resolve it. Only when it is too late will you understand that, as the conditions attached to your lease are ratcheted up, so you have been changed from a business owner to a civil servant – and have ultimately lost all that were working for.

The mining industry is the most prominent case study of what will befall you. At first, the industry went along with the surrender of mineral rights, and then with the rent seeking that followed. For a time it seemed to work, but then the edicts were ratcheted higher and higher to the point that scores of miners have exited the country, the industry is on its knees, and prominent mining CEOs have described the industry as ‘uninvestable’. All that is left now, as will be the case for you, is the empty shell.  

There is a lesson, here.

When miners lost control of their assets and their industry, it was because they played along with the initial moves by the government to nationalise mineral rights. They thought that if they went along, they might get along. In other sectors, too, organised business has actively cooperated, facilitated, appeased and enforced the rent-seeking agreements that pass as ‘empowerment policy’ in our country – edicts that saw firms having to surrender equity to political cadres in the hope that if they did so the government would be benign. As an aside, it is mad, and immoral, that this sort of thing, which is pure rent seeking, is still described as ‘empowerment policy’ when it does nothing to address the actual causes of disadvantage. The millions of desperate and unemployed people subsisting on the fringes of poverty deserve a lot better.

The brilliance of the government’s rent-seeking strategy lies in its capacity to convince the intended victims to apply the strategy to themselves. Without the active cooperation of organised business, none of this sort of thing could in practice be implemented. And despite the poverty and desperation that confronts so many South African families who will never benefit from BEE, few in business dare argue publicly for a better form of empowerment policy – one focused on poor people and targeted at addressing the real causes of systemic disadvantage. Business does not speak out because it is now afraid of the extensive powers it has given to its political overlords. Take the point further; the State will find it difficult in practice to seize pensions unless the financial services industry is willing to endorse the idea of prescribed assets. The State will also find it difficult in practice to take control of private medical practices unless the private medical industry buys into the National Health Insurance scheme.

In the land context, if organised agriculture, banks, cooperatives, and related industries refuse to indulge the government’s expropriation plans, and focus instead on promoting sensible alternatives, then mass expropriation or custodial takings probably cannot happen – other than by sending the security forces to drive people from their homes in the full glare of the global media and investment community.   

Let this percolate – we will revisit it.

Critical to your strategy from this point out is understanding that nothing that is happening in the agricultural sector is unique. Like businesses elsewhere, you are simply pawns in a much bigger ideological struggle about whether South Africa will survive as a free, open and market-based society or whether it will sink into a morass of socialist oppression.

A departure point from which to understand those currents is the establishment in 1912 of what will become the African National Congress. Moderate and conservative relative to what was to come, the party will pass through the 1920s, and 1930s, even suspending some of its liberation demands in pursuit of supporting Jan Smuts’ efforts in the Second World War. But 1948 would herald Smuts’ defeat and, as white South Africa hurtled towards apartheid, the ANC was hounded into the arms of the Soviets and the East Germans whose embrace would infuse the party with much hard-left ideology, particularly after the adoption in 1962 of the doctrine of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) by the South African Communist Party (SACP), whose lobbying efforts would see the ANC adopt the doctrine at its conference at Morogoro in Tanzania in 1969.   

The doctrine of NDR was based on Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which held that the wealth of the colonial powers arose solely from their oppression and exploitation of the colonised. From this foundation, Lenin argued that the purpose of anti-colonial revolutions must always be to dispossess the coloniser – and then embrace communism – failing which the colonised could never be free. The SACP made this theory applicable to South Africa by developing the notion of ‘colonialism of a special type’ – to mean that both the coloniser and the colonised lived together inside the same country, into which the coloniser had become permanently integrated. The theory held that, despite that integration, the prosperity of South Africa’s property-owning middle class remained solely the result of the oppression and exploitation of the black majority, and indeed prolonged that poverty – and that the coloniser, despite being integrated into the society, would have to be dispossessed if the colonised were ever to be free. The ANC has annually recommitted itself to the NDR, right up to this year.

Matters took a turn in Davos in 1991 when Nelson Mandela delivered an address in which he appeared to jettison such revolutionary dogma (the backstory is that he rewrote the paragraphs of the address prepared for him on economic policy – a great risk for him, as the ANC had yet to convene a major policy conference).

He emerged from Davos to tell his party that Afro-socialist experiments had failed and that South Africa would pursue a more pragmatic path. That, in turn, set in motion the chain of events that would isolate the hard-left in the tripartite alliance and culminate in the Growth Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, policy that sought to drive socio-economic upliftment through investment-driven growth.

Matched with the good fortune of interest rates that were cut in half, cheap surplus electricity, relatively low household debt levels, and the commodity boom, South Africa under Thabo Mbeki initially made some progress. The number of people with jobs doubled. Ten formal houses were built for every new shack being erected. The number of university students doubled. Economic growth rose to average 5% between 1994 and 2007 as government debt levels halved and a budget surplus was recorded.

But even as he was driving a socio-economic recovery he was planting the seeds of its collapse. His cruel health policies killed hundreds of thousands and saw life expectancy fall by 10 years; it was under his watch that the arms deal corruption set the precedent for the looting of the Gupta family, VBS bank, BOSASA and the many other horrors that lie waiting to be uncovered; it was during Mr Mbeki’s presidency, analysts forget, that South Africa first ran out of electricity; his Cabinet was instrumental in seeing merit give way to race in the civil service, which in turn set up the collapse of so many government functions; and it was his own unconscionable diplomacy towards Zimbabwe that enabled the collapse both of the rule of law and of the economy in that country – and marked South Africa’s departure as a foreign-policy peer of liberal democracies.   

As Mr Mandela’s influence faded, Mr Mbeki would make two further, now politically fatal, blunders that later intersected to prematurely end his own political career. The first was to send the charismatic Jacob Zuma to wrest the rural Zulu nationalist vote from Inkatha, without appreciating that if Mr Zuma succeeded (where both Mbeki and Mandela had failed) he would come to inherit the mantle of Zulu nationalism and wield it as a weapon in the ANC – exactly as came to pass. The second was on HIV and AIDS. Here, Mr Mbeki’s missteps allowed the long-isolated Left within the ANC to regroup, fundraise, and develop platforms of influence around the AIDS pandemic that they later used to stunning effect to attack Mr Mbeki’s economic policy and to turn public and popular opinion against him.

Those two mistakes led to Mr Mbeki’s defeat at Polokwane in 2007.

The Left was happy to exploit Mr Zuma’s populism to eject Mr Mbeki, while Mr Zuma was happy to ride the wave of ideologically inspired anti-Mbeki media sentiment crafted by the Left. After Polokwane, the Zuma camp would go on to loot the state, while the Left clawed back, to use the revolutionary term, ‘the levers of policy influence’ denied to them since Davos in 1991. And with those levers in hand they turned the policy clock back to the socialist dogma of 1969, cancelling more than ten bilateral investment treaties, introducing the mad immigration rules, the even madder NHI proposal, hiking minimum wage levels, introducing the draft mining charter, and turning the screws of ever more onerous racial edicts.

That these shifts further coincided with the global financial crisis in 2008 created the perfect governance, policy, and economic storm, best highlighted in South Africa’s rate of economic growth peeling away from the global average in a pattern last seen in the late 1970s in unison with declining levels of job creation and declining popular confidence in the future – all of which we identified and began to track in great detail.  

Those consequences generated the once (for ANC leaders – and many analysts) unthinkable proposition of the ANC surrendering its national majority. That fear triggered an internal power struggle between the ‘leftists’ and the ‘looters’, the victors at Polokwane, as both sides sought to escape culpability for the ANC’s reversals. At Nasrec in December 2017, the two factions fought themselves to a stalemate, demonstrated in Mr Cyril Ramaphosa’s becoming ANC leader by a margin of just 179 votes out of over 4 700 delegates – at the head of party still populated by the ideologues and state-capture suspects of the past decade. Now, under withering fire from internal opponents, he has sought refuge amongst the communists and, in hock to them, has surrendered much of the economic cluster of the Cabinet to left-wing ideologues while his internal opponents take control of the parliamentary caucus and committees. The pragmatic middle of the ANC that defined the party through the Mbeki and Mandela years no longer exists.    

Both major ANC factions are, however, set on pursuing EWC. On the left of the party, the motivation is ideological, in line with its NDR policy. On the other side, the motivation is to loot the country while opening the way to the erosion of civil rights and the rule of law, given that property rights anchor substantive human liberty in every free and open society.

And all this is happening against a context in which the ANC is dying.   

Forget the 57% headline number from the 2019 election. Our polls suggest that, among matriculants, ANC support was at just under 50%; among degreed graduates, at around 25%; among young people, at around 50%; and that less than half of its votes came from formal urban areas – unlike the EFF and the Democratic Alliance, each of which got well over half its votes from such areas. ANC voter support is now on the wrong side of South Africa’s mega education, demographic, and urbanisation trends.

Worse for the party is that, as its support sinks, it is running out of the money it needs to run the country and sustain the patronage networks that hold the party together. Debt levels have more than doubled over the past decade. The tax-to-GDP take has reached a record all-time high point. The growth rate is a fraction of the budget deficit. The fiscal position is unsalvageable and the ANC in government is probably now set to run out of money within the same 24-month window ahead of the 2024 national election in which it may run out of votes – meaning that the party is now at its most dangerous. 

Be warned that there is nothing inherent in South Africa or its politicians or its history or place in the world to say that it cannot be the next Venezuela. Consider also that no liberation government that came to power through armed struggle in southern Africa has ever lost power – the MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe – and you dare not doubt me that there are political leaders in this country who, despite the terror, and the poverty, and the food/medicine shortages of Zimbabwe, see only one thing – that, 39 years on, Zanu-PF is still in charge and that they see that as a success and think that maybe they can be successful, too. More so for the fact that our polls now show that wherever you see the manifestations of the ANC’s electoral promise of a better life for all, you see people beginning to doubt whether they should vote for the ANC. 

How should you counter the risks? 

Your strategy must have five parts: 

  1. The first is to get the analysis right, especially with regard to policy and ideology. If you do not know what the problem is and where it comes from, you cannot fight it. Good analysts know what the subject of their analysis will do before the subject knows. The politicians who are driving at expropriation think they have your number. If you don’t know what is happening and why, how can you counter it?   
  1. The second is to organise yourselves around institutions that fight for you. There will be a myriad of these and, while they must never unite as one (and risk diminishing their ‘voice’), they must learn to work together effectively. First and most important for you is to support organised agriculture in South Africa, and especially Free State Agriculture. Remain isolated and alone and you will be picked off one by one until there is nothing left. 
  1. Once you know what is going on and you are well-organised, the next step is to use your influence as members to identify the principles that you will defend at all costs. These are lines in the sand that can never be crossed, and they become the mandate you give to your leaders. Never fall into the trap of negotiating away core principles by allowing your opponent to set the terms of reference for debate. Noam Chomsky said that the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of available opinion and then to encourage very vigorous debate within the spectrum. Hence, the only debate about empowerment policy in South Africa is how to do race-based BEE better. There is no debate about policies that might be better than race-based BEE at empowering poor people. In your case, the principles are property rights, title, and a market economy. When the government asks what the maximum size of a farm should be – don’t spring the trap. Even if your first number is a million hectares, once you have conceded the principle that the State can decide how big a farm can be, the number will be whittled down steadily until it is one hectare. Instead, you should answer that, while you have no mandate to discuss capping farm sizes, you would like to talk about the myriad of factors holding emerging farmers back, which range from the lack of title and the cost of capital to the dearth of proper extension services – and, more than that, that you would like to have that discussion in the full glare of the media so that they can better appreciate the real problems that face emerging farmers. 
  1. Next, you act to defend those principles. Not a single misguided public or private critique of commercial farmers, farming, or property rights must pass unchallenged. Within 24 hours, you need to answer every one on the same platform where it was posted, show why it was wrong, and spell out what the consequences of such wrongheaded policy will be. Margaret Thatcher said that you cannot win the politics until you have won the argument. Command public opinion and you win – but, here, you are very much on the back-foot.

Let me say something here about black farmers and white farmers. Black farmers have two strategic advantages over their white peers. The first is that they understand better than many whites what the ANC is capable of. The ANC is capable of many good things, and, for a time after 1994, delivered on them, but it also harbours a historical capacity for extreme cruelty and neglect – the experience of this province being a present-day case in point. Think of the man who testified before the Zondo commission about how he was denied state veterinary assistance because he could not demonstrate his loyalty to the party. Blacks know better than whites the risks of allowing the ANC to decide who can own property. The second is that many black farmers know first-hand what it is to live in a country that denies you title – the chance to say that this is mine, the benefit of my hard work. My colleague, Temba Nolutshungu, remarked some years ago that, having fought so hard for the chance to own property, it was mad how many black people seemed willing to surrender that right to the State. My colleagues will soon bring out a key alternative report to that of the presidential land panel. It will propose that the only way to support new commercial farming entrants is via title, cheap financing, and very effective extension services. That is the model upon which the success of the South African commercial farming industry was built, and black people, particularly given our country’s history, deserve nothing less than the full benefits of that same model. Beware of attempts at divide and rule. Decide carefully who your allies are. You are all commercial farmers – first and foremost – and what happens to commercial farmers will in the end determine what happens to all of you.

  1. Now that you are well-informed, well-organised, have clearly delineated principles, and are getting the upper hand in the battle for public opinion, you can begin to exert pressure. Pressure breeds reform and all politics is about exerting pressure to force a balance of power. Around the world, farmers are very powerful lobbies, but not here – and we must change that. You apply pressure on politicians and the government by taking firm action in an ordered and strategic manner whenever an assault is made on any of the lines you have drawn in the sand around property rights, title, and a market economy. You do so in the media, by touring the world and talking to investors, and by organising mass actions. You apply pressure on banks, large corporations, cooperatives, and all your suppliers if they do not demonstrate requisite support for your cause by using the same actions as above, along with your power as consumers. How many of them have spoken out against the mad proposals of the land panel? How much money are they investing in your campaigns against expropriation? Will senior bank executives join you on global roadshows to make the case for property rights? It is not right that they leave you to fight the public battle.     

But you have to start this, and drive it.

Do not look to foreign governments, the ANC’s dwindling band of reformers, or business leaders – they have already shown you how little they care and none of them are coming to your defence. Don’t count on the political opposition – it is not what it should be. Don’t count on the protection of laws or even on constitutional provisions – it can be a relatively simple matter to change them. Don’t exhaust yourselves raging at the crooks and ideologues in the ANC – they are doing what they were always going to do. Don’t rant at the journalists and academics who sit in the comfort of their own homes writing about how social justice will arise if someone takes away yours. They are idiots. If you want to win, then look to yourselves because the power to determine what happens next is with you and what you decide to do with the tools and organisations that you control. Free State Agriculture is your organisation – it is a mirror and it reflects you. You control it and will determine what its influence is.

It is the most terrible thing to see people – and you see them across our country, good, hard-working, God-fearing South Africans, black and white – frightened about what the future holds. Steve Biko, who faced circumstances far worse than anything you face, said – when confronted with the hopelessness of his own people – that ‘there is nothing more powerful in the hands of the oppressor than the mind of the oppressed’. If I come to your house and call you a thief and a rapist and threaten to lay waste to your business, you will not stand for it. But why is it that when the government or some academic does the same, you just sit there? How can you stand for it that the government, this government – ‘venal, incompetent and corrupt’, says that you are the problem? It is incredible – when you are surely one of the greatest assets this country still possesses.

You can win this. But to do that you need to take a firm decision for yourself that you are no longer going to stand for the abuse and the lies. Without the courage to fight for yourself, how do you expect anyone else to do so – or hope to win outsiders to your cause and have them treat you with any respect? But I assure you that if you do stand up and follow the strategy I have set out, there is a very good chance that you are going to win – and that you will not just win for yourselves, but, far more importantly, that your example will inspire others to say ‘No!’ to a cruel and divisive government, and insist on sensible policies that can deliver a stable and prosperous future for all South Africans.

 

Frans Cronje is the CEO of the IRR.

 

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