No more investment please

Andrew Donaldson says Cyril's soft assurances mean nothing while EWC is making its way into our fundamental law



A CASE of one step forward but two steps backward, with a foot somehow finding its way into one’s smiling mouth. That, at least, is how we called it here at the Mahogany Ridge.

On Thursday Parliament’s joint constitutional review committee adopted a resolution that Section 25 of the Constitution be amended to allow expropriation without compensation.

At the same time, however, Cyril Ramaphosa was in Brussels, trying to talk up European investment in South Africa. And how did that go, we wondered; was the president able to reassure anybody that we know what we’re doing, and yes, their money will be quite safe with us?

There was a fair bit of prattle at the media briefing after the SA-European Union summit with Squirrel rabbiting on about his government’s focus on land reform and how it maintains investor confidence, improves food security, reduces poverty, and what-what.

Government, he added, had “affirmed” its commitment to constitutional values, the rule of law, and — ahem! — the “principle of equitable and just redress”, and there came much guff about exploring possibilities for investment, technical assistance, improved business climates and sustainable development.

Ramaphosa also littered his remarks with the by-now mandatory references to entrepreneurial opportunities, skills development and the looming digital revolution.

These, of course, are the great pies in the sky, the dreams of unicorns and pots of gold at the end of rainbows, that are trotted out whenever government talks of tackling unemployment and boosting the economy. 

Take a drive past Masiphumelele, for example, or any township for that matter. Notice the thousands of labourers on the side of the road, holding up trowels, spirit levels, shovels and other tools as the traffic passes them by? 

These are people who want work, the opportunity to use their labour to support their families, not “entrepreneurial” mumbo jumbo. They are desperate and there are millions of them. 

As for the digital revolution, alas, that has already passed us, thanks largely to an appalling education system.

Most of our schools, according to Ann Bernstein, the executive director of the Centre for Development and Enterprise, hardly qualify as such and are really nothing more than holding pens which depressingly do little more than add to the great mass of unemployed youth out there.

They are not altogether naive, up there in Europe, and they’re well aware of the challenges, if we may put it like that, that the country faces. Call us cynical, but we did not notice much in the way of reaching for wallets in Brussels, which is customarily the meat and potatoes of these investment safaris to the north.

On top of which there is all this hoo-hah about amending Section 25 of the Constitution. Not to state the bleeding obvious, but what hope could there be for investor confidence when government has yet to decide on what will and what won’t be up for grabs?

What property will be expropriated without compensation? So far, the chatter suggests it is farmland. But what of other land? 

And herein lies a problem. In order to get a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to ram this chimeric red herring into law, government will rely on support from the Economic Freedom Fighters, and their stance on EWC is roughly this: all property will be handed over to the state.

Put more simply, it’s going to be a basket case, but at least it’s a revolutionary one, and not a basket case belonging to white monopoly capital.

And what of fixed assets on that land? Buildings, factories, houses? Movable property such as vehicles, machinery, and the like? What of goods manufactured on such property? What of contracts and intellectual property?

We simply don’t know. And neither does government. Yet it insists there won’t be “land grabs” and the sort of yahoo free-for-alls that took place in Zimbabwe. 

Oddly enough, European investors don’t seem all that convinced. Perhaps they are more concerned with the Little Englanders in Westminster are self-basting themselves with what appears to be Marmite, calling for the prime minister Theresa May’s head and getting bullish for a “no deal” Brexit.

* * *

Amid the dense fog of uncertainty over EWC there is however one thing government is reasonably sure of.

In no way whatsoever can it mess about with the Ingonyama Trust, which has placed roughly 28 000 square kilometres of KwaZulu-Natal, or roughly 30% of the province, under the direct control of King Goodwill Zwelithini.

In this regard, Illwill, as we refer to him, has certainly been exercising his feudal muscles in recent months. And with good reason. In the 2016/2017 financial year, the trust collected about R107-million in rentals from those who live without security of tenure here.

These collections have been increasing each year as more and more residents have been coerced into signing 40-year rental agreements with the trust. Unsurprisingly, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, the Rural Women’s Movement and individual land occupiers have launched a high court action aimed at stopping the king from forcing residents to enter these agreements.

This royal grubbing for cash knows no limits. In May, for example, KZN premier Willies Mchunu announced that the king’s annual budget had been increased by R7-million, bringing the total he will receive this year to almost R66-million.

Many wonder what becomes of all this money, and the short answer is that it appears to go to the king’s head. 

Not content with his usual duties, like presiding over reed dances, sending virginity testers hither and thither across the land and scaring the foreigners, Zwelithini now appears to have noticed there is a general election in the offing, and fancies himself as a kingmaker. Which, for a king…

In the process, he has become rather mad with self-importance. It’s said that when former US president Barack Obama delivered the annual Nelson Mandela Lecture in July, there were complaints that Zwelithini’s chair was the same height as the other guests in the VIP area and he had to spend an uncomfortable few hours at the same level as mere mortals.

This is not strictly true. There was a high-rise chair, but it had been commandeered by Fikile Mbalula, the ruling party’s rather short elections boss.

There appears to be much disrespect as far as the king is concerned. Last month, the Press Ombudsman had to deal with a complaint that Zwelithini’s proper title had not been used every time his name was mentioned in a Daily Dispatch report.

Dismissing the complaint, ombud Johan Retief said, “The practice to mention somebody’s title only when that person is first mentioned in a story is an accepted journalistic practice, both in this country and internationally — irrespective of any kind of ‘cultural demand’ to the contrary. Nowhere is it a sign of disrespect, as it is done solely for practical purposes.”

Naturally, this is only the norm if a person has only one title. What if the king has several? 

Already, we understand, a committee has been formed to draw up a list of suitable honourifics, which so far includes, “Spear of the Zulu Nation”, “Defender of the Realm”, “Fisherman’s Friend”, “Soup of the Day”, “Eligible Bachelor”, “The 13th Apostle”, “Siren Song” and “Budge”. 

Watch this space for further developments…

More alarmingly, the king has also been suggesting that those political parties who want the support of the Zulu people should kneel before him. This has prompted suggestions from various parties that he butt out of politics.

We’ve suggested this before, but he seems a natural as a tourism attraction. Many a visitor would pay handsomely for an audience with the Soup of the Day at his royal household. 

Click here to sign up as a Politicsweb FC supporter.