Parliament took leave of its senses this week. The decision to amend the constitution to allow for the seizure of land without payment or any compensation to the occupant is a descent to jungle justice, not in keeping with the society we are trying to build.
The move might seem like a victory to some, but it’s a pyrrhic one at best, if not pie in the sky. It could do more harm than good, unravelling more than just land-ownership patterns in the country. It will create unnecessary conflict without achieving its intended goal.
Land is an emotive subject. It requires us all to act and speak of it in measured tones, not that of the frenzied zealotry we heard in the National Assembly this week.
The amendment wants go further than current laws allow. If we are to right what President Cyril Ramaphosa calls an original sin, where do we start? Do we have full knowledge or understanding of the original lie of the land, as it were? And at the end of the process, will every black person be entitled to a piece of land or plot gratis?
The Khoisan people will vehemently dispute the prevailing idea that black people are the original owners of the land.
There are just too many imponderables.
Mosiuoa Lekota tried to pose some of these uncomfortable questions during the debate and, in what must surely rank as the lowest point in the history of the house, he was abused and called names.
It doesn’t matter whether one agrees with him or not, he’s entitled to his views and to express them without harassment. When they couldn’t answer the questions, they played the man. What, one might ask, is the House for if not to grapple with such intractable issues?
It was unfortunate that Ramaphosa and Naledi Pandor, perhaps two of the more sensible people in the House, seemed to inadvertently give permission for the lynching by singling out Lekota during their replies to the state of the nation address.
One suspects, though, that on this issue Ramaphosa is probably closer to Lekota than to Julius Malema.
Ramaphosa guided the drafting of the constitution, yet now he could preside over its unravelling and undermine Nelson Mandela’s greatest achievement – uniting the country’s people. How ironic.
There is no doubt that, if not properly handled, these steps could drive a stake through the heart of the foundation laid out in 1994, a deal that has seen our nascent democracy through almost a quarter of a century with very little strife or conflict.
There are those, of course, who won’t mind such an outcome. It is fashionable these days to ridicule the settlement as a sellout. Like the biblical Samson, they want to pull the house down. War is not a picnic. But if this lot were in charge of the negotiations in 1994, the country would probably have been plunged into a civil war worse than Rwanda.
Ramaphosa has promised, rather unconvincingly, that land confiscation won’t threaten commercial farming or food security. It will be interesting to watch him square that circle.
But the gold standard, of course, is Zimbabwe. The seizure of white farms has left millions of black people – the intended beneficiaries of land reform – not only poorer but landless. And Malema has nothing but praise for Robert Mugabe, the man behind such a mindless and destructive venture.
“He [Mugabe] is the only man who represents the kind of Africa we want,” Malema said not so long ago. “He’s the only leader who knows that for real change to come, Africans will go through the necessary pain, exactly what Zimbabweans are going through right now.”
The ANC has not only lost the capacity – and courage – to govern; it has lost its mind. It seems bereft of ideas. It lacks ideological and intellectual certainty. Like a reed in the wind, it goes with the flow.
Not so long ago voting with the opposition was supposed to be akin to a betrayal, now it has hitched a ride on Malema’s wagon. Its members are gushing because, in Ramaphosa, they finally have a leader they aren’t ashamed of. But they’re mistaken; Malema’s in charge. They would do well to start stocking up on red overalls.
Gugile Nkwinti, who as land reform minister for the past nine years made a shambles of the land-restitution programme and who strangely spoke for the motion on the ANC’s behalf, just about prostrated himself before Malema. He was embarrassingly enthusiastic.
The EFF has a little problem. Jacob Zuma, its meal ticket if not its raison d’etre, has gone. Elections are on the horizon and it is casting about for a potent weapon. The ANC has just given it one.