EWC: The ANC’s semantic fraud

Ernst Roets says we must be careful of the manipulation of language in the land debate

It became important in the post-truth era to not only make sure that we use the correct words to say what we mean, but also not to be misled by buzz words that sound nice, but actually mean something different from what they pretend to mean.

The political scientist Francis Fukayama said that there were almost as many definitions of the word “democracy” as there were lawyers. This is also true for many other buzz words. A buzz word is a word that is often used; however, if you ask twenty people what the word means, you would most probably get twenty different answers. There are pleasant buss words like “reconciliation”, “nation building” and democracy”, but also nasty ones like “racism”, “privilege” and “apartheid”.

There probably is no other buzz word that is currently used more than “land reform”. Few people are willing to speak out against land reform as it is generally perceived to be a positive term. The idea is that land reform is a good thing because it aims to correct an error or imbalance. The word is of course also associated with several other buzz words, such as “restitution” and “redistribution”.

It is firstly important to realise that restitution and redistribution are two opposing concepts. Restitution is about correcting a mistake. This is something that should be supported in principle – and which AfriForum also supports. In terms of the land issue, restitution encompasses a land claim process according to which the land claimants should be able to prove that the land in question belonged to their ancestors and was taken from them in a particular manner.

Such a process should be supported at least in principle, obviously on condition that it is done factually, fairly and without corruption. Against that, redistribution entails in practice that the race of a landowner determines if that person is the rightful owner. If your skin is white, you are in trouble. If your skin is black, it is your lucky day. It is an inherently racist process in which the history of the land in question is irrelevant. It is therefore a process that should be opposed by any rational person.

Second, it is important to understand the buzz word “expropriation” for what it is. Expropriation – and especially expropriation without compensation – entails the brushing aside of the history of the land in question; it is therefore a process that is stripped of all historic context. Neither is it truly about redistribution. If one views the process of expropriation without compensation in context, it is very clear that, to the ANC and the EFF, it is a process of nationalisation rather than restitution or simply redistribution.

Why do we say that expropriation without compensation is nothing but a process of nationalisation? There is a myriad of reasons for this.

First, the motion that was carried in Parliament is aimed at enabling the state to expropriate land without compensation; the motion does not determine, however, that the land should thereafter be transferred into private ownership.

Second, it is clear – if the practice up to know is considered – that the transferral from state to private ownership is not only low on the ANC’s list of priorities, but that the ANC is somewhat hostile towards the principle of property rights.

Third, Agri Development Solutions calculated that only 6% of land that had been bought by the state up until now had since been transferred again from state into private ownership.

Fourth, the ANC’s so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR) makes it clear that the ANC is focused on the centralisation of power in the state. The ANC openly declares that it is a Marxist-Leninist party and even talks about a socialist revolution that should be brought about in South Africa. When the ANC talks about the second transition in its discussion documents, it means that the NDR should now be brought about through the state mechanisms.

Fifth, we know that government currently owns more than 4 000 farms. It doesn’t seem hopeful, however, that these farms would be transferred into private ownership, despite government itself acknowledging that more than 90% of its land reform projects have failed. After having gone through the state’s hands, former commercial farms have been changed into subsistence farms or even squatter camps.

Lastly, the state’s approach to mineral rights should also be taken into consideration here. In the 2013 case between Agri South Africa and the Minister of Minerals and Energy the state argued that it should be the custodian of mineral rights and, because the state knows better (according to the state), the state should decide on the people’s behalf what should happen to it. This apparently on behalf of us, the common citizens who are not as clever as the state. There are already strong opinions in the ANC that the same principle should be applied in terms of land.

We should not let the state’s buzz words mislead us. Expropriation without compensation is semantic fraud – just like many of the other buzz words related to land reform. To the state it is all about vesting the power in the state, not to “give back” land to the people.  

Ernst Roets is Deputy CEO of AfriForum. Follow Ernst on Twitter by @ErnstRoets