Malema's rhetoric on land is a bad joke - SACP

Party journal says EFF's approach would deprive all black people, let alone whites, of ownership


Forward to a genuinely radical land ownership transformation

Down with a shallow, demagogic and ultimately... not very radical sloganeering

The ANC’s December national conference resolution on using land expropriation without compensation has led to an impression the ANC is tamely tailing behind the EFF.  Unfortunately, ANC messages around this question have often contributed to the confusion and uncertainty. A boastful Malema has played this up for all it is worth.

As the SACP we welcome the parliamentary decision for a Constitutional Review Committee to conduct public hearings on expropriation and the land question, and to assess whether a Constitutional amendment is required. The Review Committee must report back to the National Assembly by August this year.

Public hearings will present an important opportunity not only to focus on constitutional matters, but also on the wider challenges of land reform in South Africa. Since 1994, land reform has been painfully slow and totally inadequate. In fact, it has been spineless. The radical expropriation mandate to ensure equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources, which is already in the Constitution, has NEVER been tested in the courts for land restitution. The SACP will be actively contributing to this critical discussion that must embrace not just land restitution, but also land redistribution and, critically, security of tenure especially for farm-workers and the millions (mainly women) living under so-called traditional authority.

If we are to advance a serious, sustainable and truly radical land reform programme – then one task is to expose the demagogic and vacuous nature of the EFF’s approach to the land question.

Depending on his audience, Malema’s rhetoric veers from one extreme to another. In November 2016, for instance, he told a crowd of youth that they should seize white-owned land: “When we leave here, you will see any beautiful piece of land, you like it, occupy it, it belongs to you…It is the land that was taken from us by white people by force through genocide.” On several occasions he has repeated the same thing.

At other times, Malema goes off on a contradictory tack. For instance when addressing white farmers in a “Gesprek” in the Boland in April 2015 he told his audience: “As long as it’s a productive farm, we don’t have to interfere with the production on that piece of land…We need to protect you. We need to make wine from France very expensive.” Along similar lines, after the February 2018 Parliamentary debate on his motion on land expropriation, Malema told the media: “If you are a farmer and you have lost ownership of the land to the state, then the portion of the farm you are using to produce whatever you are producing should continue uninterrupted…”

These latter statements superficially appear to be in line with the ANC’s resolution to consider expropriating land without compensation, provided there is no destabilising impact on agriculture, food security, jobs and the economy in general. However, the EFF position is completely different from what we believe is (or should be) at the heart of the ANC and Alliance position. It is imperative that we clarify this.

Insofar as there is any consistency in the EFF position it is that ALL land in South Africa must be expropriated without compensation (agricultural and non-agricultural land, black-owned and white-owned land, South African-owned and non-South African-owned land) and the State will become the custodian. Once this has happened it will be possible, according to Malema, for unoccupied and unproductive land to be identified, and this is the land that can be redistributed free.

In other words, the EFF’s approach involves the expropriation without compensation of ALL land, with a stroke of the pen, as it were – including that owned by black households and communities, including those settled under communal land tenure provisions. Naturally, this wholesale expropriation sits awkwardly with Malema’s simultaneous anti-white raves.

The radical-sounding rhetoric might appeal to unemployed township youth who have never done a day’s farming in their lives, but it is unlikely to have much resonance with black home-owners, or the actual tillers of land in the former bantustans. This is why the EFF has been less than clear about the implications of their call for the total nationalisation without compensation of all land in South Africa.

It is something that his erstwhile comrade, the Gupta-lackey and Bell Pottinger mouthpiece, Andile Mngxitama has been quick to point out. Writing in May 2015 Mngxitama noted: “Last month, EFF leader Julius Malema abandoned the party’s radical demand for land expropriation without compensation. He opted instead for the amorphous reformist demand of expropriation of ‘non-productive land’…Faced with a roomful of the Stellenbosch white agricultural capitalist class, those whom the EFF calls land thieves, Malema finally abandoned the first EFF non-negotiable cardinal pillar and assured white farmers that, as long ‘it’s a productive farm, we don’t have to interfere with the production on that piece of land.’ “

Mngxitama continues: “The address to the white farmers was in effect a salesman’s pitch. In classical salesman style, Malema stroked his racist landed audience’s ego, in effect saying: ‘We admire you, you feed us, you mentor us, your land is safe, we would interfere only with that which you don’t want or use.’ In other words, he was saying: ‘Give us the rejected land.’ The sales pitch reached its apex with a plea, cap in hand…[T]he EFF leaders ended their talk by asking for donations from the gathered landed settler oligarchy of Stellenbosch.”  (Andile Mngxitama, “How Malema sold out on land reform”, May 2015).

This falling out of demagogues is vaguely amusing but, more importantly, it is instructive. Mngxitama is spot on in exposing Malema’s habitual “shake-down” approach to established capital and to white South Africans in general: intimidate them with fire-brand populism tinged with racism, and then cosey up and look for donations. This is exactly what Malema in his ANCYL days did around the phoney “nationalisation of mines” campaign.

But both Malema and Mngxitama share the same illusion embedded in the EFF’s founding “original sin” principles – namely the naïve belief that expropriation of all land without compensation is the silver bullet that will solve the terrible, racialised inequities we have inherited from a colonial and apartheid past and which continue to be reproduced by a cruel capitalist property market.

There are many glaring weaknesses in the EFF position.

Why go through the enormously complicated and risky business of expropriating ALL land in South Africa, making the state the custodian, in order then to identify “unused” and “unproductive” land? Why not focus immediately on unused and unproductive land – especially prioritising well-located land that can be used for food security, promoting new productive farmers, or for the purposes of transforming apartheid spatial settlement patterns in all of our towns and cities?

More importantly, we should not confine land reform simply to unused or unproductive land – which is where the EFF’s “no compensation”, radical-sounding rhetoric is leading us. In fact, in practice, the EFF’s approach ends up by being very little different from that of the whites-only FF+ which has hypocritically urged government to make use of drought-hit areas to buy up farms on the cheap for land reform. Although the FF+’s position would involve some knock-down, low payment – in practice it is proposing that we settle aspirant black farmers on arid land while bailing out indebted white farmers at public expense! (This, by the way, is a mirror image of Malema’s earlier “nationalisation of the mines” rhetoric which, as the SACP pointed out, was really about rescuing indebted black BEE mining shares at public expense at a time when the global commodity market had collapsed.)

Of course, the state already is a major land and broader property custodian in South Africa but is battling to effectively use this custodianship to drive land reform and urban spatial transformation. One of the immediate tasks we have is to ensure that state land (including that owned by SOEs like Transnet, Eskom and PRASA) is much more energetically used for radical land reform. If municipalities have to expropriate unused Transnet land for well-located low-cost housing, for example, then surely this would be good case for non-compensation.

Another flaw in the EFF position (and it is not alone in this) is the tendency to reduce the land question to a rural/agricultural question, whereas, in fact, with over 60% of South Africans living in towns and cities, and 14% living in informal settlements, arguably the most pressing land question is that of well-located and affordable land for urban settlement.

Most importantly, as Adv. Ngcukaitobi and others have pointed out, we must never reduce the land question to mere ground, to a mere quantitative matter of who owns what acreage. Yes, there were centuries of near genocidal land dispossession of the black majority in South Africa. But colonialism and apartheid did not just dispossess the black majority of land, other economic assets were also dispossessed – like cattle, and trading licences (as well as, of course, cultural assets – like the graves of ancestors). If you treat land reform as simply the restitution of ground, then you underestimate all of the additional assets (both material as well as skills and technologies) that are required to give the ground sustainable, productive value and, therefore, the beneficiaries dignified lives.  

Malema has told white farmers that the EFF “without compensation” demand only relates to the land, meaning the ground. In cases of expropriation, he assured them, they will be compensated for any buildings and other improvements. So compensation returns by sleight of hand through the back-door! But, as anyone who knows anything about agriculture (or landed property in general), the actual land value minus improvements is typically a minimal fraction of the market (or for that matter, the just and equitable) value of the property. In short, if the compensation requirement in the Constitution is really the blockage to land reform (and it is not) – then the EFF’s approach to no-compensation simply for the land (and not for improvement on the land) doesn’t remotely address the problem. 

Like so much else about Malema’s EFF, the rhetoric is radical-sounding, the content is vacuous.

This article first appeared via the SACP’s online journal, Umsebenzi Online.