IT WAS the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald who said: “No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there.” While the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche remarked: “We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us” and still Thomas Mann opined: “If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.”
The reason I take the opportunity to provide readers with some philosophizing on the ‘history of ideas’, rather than the ‘idea of history’, is that there has been a lot of solipsising lately on the issue of liberalism and its purported antithesis, socialism, in the runup to and aftermath of the DA federal conference, billed as the ‘greatest opposition event ever’.
For those who might not already know, a solipsism (or circular logic) according to the urban dictionary is also “the belief that the person holding the belief is the only real thing in the universe. All other persons and things are merely ornaments or impediments to his or her happiness.”
Just how this applies to South African politics will become clearer. To begin, there has thus been a plethora of verbiage surrounding a relatively new idea in popular discourse, that of ‘black liberalism” with equal bouts of critique from humdingers, curmudgeons and opinion-makers on the left, schooled in dialectical materialism and political economy.
Thus A black liberal is not an oxymoron was followed by Black liberalism is an apology for capitalism and Richard Pithouse The liberal licence to kill and more recently, Mmusi Maimane’s Building an African liberal agenda.
Jara opines that McKaiser’s “reclaiming of liberalism is ultimately flawed because it does not question capitalism’s core logic — the rights, freedoms and power of capitalists to maximise profits on the basis of appropriating the commons through the private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the exploitation of labour and natural resources.”
Pithouse on the other hand raised an awkward caveat whilst attacking liberalism at its historical core, by listing its alleged policy sins. Despite its many problems, and yes, there are some positives, there is at the face of it, a common dilemma of seeing everything one disagrees with as mere “ornaments or impediments to happiness.” In South Africa,” writes Pithouse ” a high price has been paid for the ease and frequency with which attempts to assert principle in struggle — including commitments to feminism, democracy and, on occasion, even basic honesty — have been denigrated and dismissed as “liberal”.”
All this was water off a duck’s back so far as Maimane was concerned. A rallying speech by the leader of the old “Liberal Party” was big on building liberal sound-bites but short on substance: “As African liberals, ” he said “we have chosen a hard road. We have chosen to stand up to dictators and bullies of all stripes, even when it is politically incorrect to do so. We have chosen to defend the free expression of ideas, even for people with whom we disagree and whose views make us angry.”
One invariably gets the same point though.
Hence one of the reasons for writing this piece, partly out of respect for Pithouse, who defends civil liberties in the same way that Maimane does, but does so without suggesting any alternatives to the two dominant poles in South African politics, nor bothering himself with a critique of the abysmal track-record of the dominant political movement, is to provide readers with some all important context. That’s the ruling party whose ideological framework is abundantly socialist versus the avowed liberalism of the major opposition,
Please feel free to arrive at your own conclusions.
As “bookish revolutionaries” to use Julius Malema’s phrase were debating the pros and cons of liberalism viz. vi. historical materialism and its view of all history being the result of ‘a dialectical clash, of opposing forces’, South Africans were being entertained by the spectacle of the National Mineworkers Union (NUM) threatening to end its support for the African National Congress (ANC): “if government continues with its renewable energy programme,” said NUM, “clean power would “destroy jobs and create ghost towns in coal mining areas.” Please bear with me.
Earlier last month the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) along with Transform RSA, and the coal-truckers industry, had attempted to interdict the Dept of Energy from signing a raft of IPP renewable contracts to no avail. That ripe Marxist language and dialectical critique emanating from our unions, was geared towards a previous era of the steam engine, coal factories, fossil fuel barons, and coal-faced workers suffering under the whip of capital, and not the emerging 4th industrial revolution predicated as it is on digital innovation, open source electronics, and abundant energy distributed amongst the commons, in a dematerialised world in which the unions too, own shares, was becoming clear.
The trouble with soviet-style super-socialism and its advocates in the unions, many of whose members appeared outfitted in fatigues and whose leaders, some of whom bore a close resemblance to Fidel Castro, began with the protagonists wanting to ‘monkey-wrench the entire system’, the self-same mixed ‘market socialist’ economy which taxes and hands out benefits, and whose state owned utility Eskom and its mega-coal projects, meant that these very same unions derived further benefits from any extension of coal-contracts that were also part and parcel of the Gupta corruption schemes. It is important to note as Min Radebe did, there was no direct connection between the threatened closure of some coal powered utilities ending their life-cycle and the IPP programme.
One can see an emerging pattern here, a similar problem experienced during the Cold War 1950s, the problematic Marxist vision of ‘willing workers of the world’ uniting under a shared common cause to fight off the bosses and shareholders in any country, in order to become, what exactly?
The Soviet Union?
Here in the South Africa of 2018, a period no longer marked by communism and the Cold War, the unions were essentially complaining about the potential loss of a paltry 30 000 jobs, whilst jeopardising the creation of 60 000 new jobs in the economy, and more to boot. The unions was prepared to compromise air quality, emissions, the health and safety of millions, while ransoming the entire country with regard to climate change. One could not get more solipsistic and obstinate if one tried. In the eyes of union bosses, what mattered most in this struggle, was happy workers. The poor seeking jobs and thus a growing and sustainable economy, in which economic models were not based upon annual bailouts, but upon reality, the facts behind an economic model which worked, for these persons, the poor for all intents and purposes, did not exist.
So let’s give a bash at answering the moot question left unanswered by our nation’s critics. What are the alternatives to the liberal market economy, if any? And since I am not a liberal as such, let me explain briefly, as economic scholer Zhang Weiwei does, one such model, the China Model, significant in that it has pulled millions out of poverty and unlike the West, has not experienced successive periods of boom and bust. And before I do, let me place my civil rights cards on the table, since I don’t support many of the authoritarian elements still at play within the China of today.
The guiding philosophy behind the ‘China Model’, according to Weiwei can be summarised as “Seeking Truth from Facts not from Dogmas, whether East or West.”
Weiwei goes on to say: “From examining the facts, leader Deng Xiaoping found that neither the Soviet Model nor the Western Model really worked, hence Beijing decided to explore its own way of development appropriate to China’s own national conditions.”
The system he says is oriented towards people’s livelihood. “Whether economic, social or political reforms, they must all be down-to-earth and produce tangible benefits … in material, cultural and other terms. This is why China has succeeded in lifting over 700 million people out of poverty, accounting for nearly 80 percent poverty eradication in the world.”
Special economic zones in which economic experiments are allowed to prove themselves first before being adopted by the broader system, are another factor attributed to China’s success.
Food for thought in a country which, despite its ideological stance, is still top of the list of the Gini coefficient marking ours the most unequal society in the world.
THERE is a narrative that goes something like this, “in the beginning the whites stole the land.” Since all land acquired during periods of colonial conquest must be the result of criminality, it follows those possessing land today, are criminals. The accusations of theft by leftists against farmers are biblical in nature. An original sin, that has turned into a commonly used slur and epithet against all persons deemed in South Africa to be white.
Thus whether or not you happen to be one of some 400 000 white persons living in poverty, often in squatter camps, the same logic applies. The same goes for working class Afrikaners and English-speakers renting homes, also excluded in one sense, from a non-stop discourse streaming over television screens and talk-shows, which literally views the dominant ethnic groups in the country as the rightful heirs to all land in the sub-continent, and anyone not part of this majority group, as a less-deserving, other tribe.
In this fashion, first nations such as the Khoisan (a collective term for sub-groups such as the Griqua) are excluded from an intellectual debate cast over the new media, often flying on twitter, whose goal is the overthrow of the constitutional dispensation and its replacement by a custodianship system similar to the apartheid-era Bantustans in which petty chiefs ruled over a tenant population. The confluence of leftist ideology within racial rhetoric and ethnic overtones is almost never remarked upon by non-racialists in the ruling party.
Africans, meaning those with a preponderance of African ancestry, whose origin is central Africa and not the sub-continent, nor Europe for that matter, are excused by such news pundits, from the same moral and ethical framework used to criticize former advocates of white supremacy. In this way, a black person is never a racist as such and may be excused from deploying racism — sometimes awkwardly referred to at best, as ‘anti-racist racism’.
If whites stole the land, then they should all be grateful at being willing parties to future land confiscation policies, the details of which are currently being articulated by the ruling party and other allied groups. In such a way of thinking, not only is “land expropriation without compensation” a done deal, but righting an historical wrong, a tragic injustice, is more important than food security, financial stability and a reliable system of land tenure based upon the preservation of ownership and title-deeds.
How does one ‘unscramble the omelette’ of decades in which a property market based upon private ownership, and the buying and selling of land has existed, and has been the status quo endorsed by national government? How do we correct for almost three decades of democratic rule and also three centuries of colonialism, the tragic 1913 Land Act, while re-engaging stalled land reform projects from the previous administration?
The controversial parliamentary resolution on land reform has been referred by President Ramaphosa to a special committee for consideration and the government is planning a land reform roadshow which intends to canvass public opinion in all the nation’s provinces. A similar international roadshow already underway, is having a tough time winning over investors. A 75% parliamentary majority is required to amend the property clause in the Constitution.
THE New South Africa was founded as the culmination of a decades-long civil rights struggle. Dubbed the “Rainbow Nation” the country’s emergence from apartheid, was manifest evidence of the ability of both black and white to solve collective problems, to put aside history and to move forward into constitutional democracy. In recent years, the country has increasingly begun to look more like an apartheid bantustan, than the great society envisaged by founder Nelson Mandela.
After a boom period during the Mbeki era, remarkable for its reconciliation and promotion of black economic empowerment, the Polokwane-elected Jacob Zuma oversaw massive erosion of the economic base. For a decade Zuma effectively took the country down the road of kleptocracy, ethnicity and junk status.
One month after Cyril Ramaphosa became president, the former President and founder of Nkandla, was dethroned and charged last week, for a plethora of corruption violations, including fraud, money laundering and racketeering, moving commentators, to remark about a “Brazil Moment”
In 2017 Brazil’s President Michel Temer was similarly indicted on corruption-related charges for the second time, with prosecutors alleging he led a political corruption racket that generated R$587m in illicit funds over the past 11 years. Both South Africa and Brazil form part of the BRICS nations, three of which have received junk status in recent years.
While the formation of the African Union and its peer review mechanism was one of the hallmarks of the Mbeki Presidency, Ramaphosa has yet to chart a course in terms of the economy and to articulate a coherent foreign policy. The recent State of the Nation address merely hinted that corruption would be dealt with and that checks and balances would be reintroduced at the treasury, notwithstanding SOEs.
It will be difficult to undo the damage. Without so much as a mandate, Zuma catapulted South Africa, into a geographical alliance that has more to do with Oligarchs and Russian and Chinese money than historical ties. The BRICs and its many associated intrigues such as the Gupta scandal, dominated political discourse in recent years. While Ramaphosa is seen as more Pro-West and market-friendly, his ascendancy is not without its own scandals.
As non-executive director of Lonmin, a company implicated in the Marikana Massacre, Ramaphosa was forced to apologise to the victims for demanding that “concomitant action” be taken against the miners involved in wildcat strikes. It is within the context of a leftist break-away from the ruling ANC party that neo-fascist organisations and avowedly racist parties such as Black Land First and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have arisen.
It was thus the EFF, a quasi-Marxist party committed to “cutting the throat of whiteness” which tabled a motion in Parliament on the land question, in particular the adoption of “expropriation without compensation”, which would require an amendment to the property clauses in the Constitution.
The centre-right Democratic Alliance under Mmusi Maimane has also found itself campaigning on the issue of land reform, but significantly, in support of title-deeds and equal opportunity for all South Africans regardless of race. The former liberal party, eschews the notion of the abolition of private property and thus the policies punted by the ANC and EFF involving state custodianship of the land. Australia, a member of the Commonwealth, has offered to fast-track visas for white farmers in danger of losing their land to confiscation.
According to one report,”The rate of land reform in South Africa peaked in 2007, but has since come to a grinding halt. It has resulted in a change of ownership of only 5.46% of South Africa’s commercial agricultural land. Much of this land was transferred to the state, or to communal ownership groups.”
The figure is nothing to be sneezed at, the state has already given over an area twice the size of Swaziland to black tenant farmers. Instead of calling for a continuation of this process, the neo-fascist far-left has set its sights on state-ownership of the entire land mass of the Southern African continent, effectively calling for an exclusive Bantustan, where race not equal opportunity, is the determining factor, and where the state, not private citizens, are the drivers of production.
The plan is doomed to failure from the outset. Wholesale land confiscation would invariably result in a collapse of the credit and banking system. Not only would the confiscated land result in adverse ownership, but the many disputes which would arise, would invariably result in asset depreciation with the risk of major loan defaults, that central bankers are unlikely to underwrite.
Time can only tell whether or not the negotiated compromises of the Mandela era, which included property rights for all, and land reform within this context, will continue to define the country and its future trajectory, or whether it is really time to call it quits on the Rainbow Nation? A continuation of land reform within the constitutional framework is the only chance of success.
National Treasury has adopted the DA position on private property in effort to stem the massive shift in allegiances over the land question. “From April, the Treasury and the department of human settlements, will spend an estimated 1.6 billion rand over three years to reduce the backlog of residents without formal ownership of their homes by among other things, paying the legal conveyancing required to get the deeds registered to the proper owners.”
THERE is a current in South African politics which sees the land debate as the culmination of the freedom struggle. For these persons, undoing the constitutional guarantees of private ownership and security of tenure, both enshrined by the Constitution, in favour of ‘expropriation without compensation’ and thus custodianship of property under the state, is the magic bullet which will right historical injustice, remove inequality, level the playing field and boost opportunity.
Driven by Marxist texts which espouse the abolition of private property in favour of state control of the land, such persons point to mythical Communist experiences but few real examples where this ideology has actually succeeded in lifting millions of peasants and the rural poor out of poverty. Not only are they just plain wrong on this account, but in all the examples cited, agrarian reform without title-deeds turned out to be a massive failure, requiring corrective action and drastic amendment of prevailing dogma.
It is worth examining two sad examples.
When the Chinese Communist Party assumed control over mainland China in 1949, “it did not follow Russia’s Bolsheviks in immediately abolishing the private ownership of land. In the countryside, a violent land reform movement brought a change in owners, but not in the ownership regime itself; full collectivisation did not occur until the late 1950s.”
The result was that under Chairman Mao, an estimated 15-30 million people died of starvation during the much vaunted “Great Leap Forward”. Widespread famine was the order of the day, the result of drastic changes in farming policy which eventually prohibited private farm ownership, and also later extending this to urban areas. Far from achieving its goals, state seizure of control of the land, resulted in economic mismanagement — bureaucracy, over-regulation and the absence of economic calculation on the ground. With no incentive to grow food, and with inter-generational knowledge, farming skills and tenure disrupted, authoritarianism produced one of the World’s major agrarian disasters.
This situation was only corrected under the government of Deng Xiaoping who introduced a policy of Household Responsibility, a practice first adopted in agriculture in 1979 and later extended to other sectors of the economy, “by which local managers are held responsible for the profits and losses of an enterprise.” This system partially supplanted the socialist ‘egalitarian distribution’ method, whereby the state assumed all profits and losses, much like the situation within our current SOE system which until now has relied upon annual bail-outs from government.
Far from being a model of communism, the trend in China has been towards private enterprise and individual ownership of property for some time, leading one analyst to suggest the country has restored private property in everything but name and that the open-ended ‘automatic renewal’ of leasehold by government is, by all accounts, a de facto return to the market-lead reforms of the West.
‘If the first 30 years of the People’s Republic saw the gradual erosion of private ownership and the growth of state ownership, the last 20 years have seen the opposite trend. By the late 1980s, the state was looking for ways to marketize land use and raise money, and so — in a process that began experimentally in 1988 and was formalized in law in 1994 — it began selling long-term leases to urban land, known as land-use rights (LURs). LURs for residential use could last for up to 70 years; for commercial use, 40 years; and for all other uses, 50 years.”
Thus in 2007 a new Property Law declared that residential LUR renewals would be “automatic.” The result, was a paradox, according to Donald Clarke, a paradox, in which the state ostensibly owns all the land, but where de facto private ownership continues.
“This system allowed the state on the one hand to obtain the economy-wide benefits of market allocation of land as well as the revenues from leasehold sales, while on the other hand to maintain that the principle of state ownership of land had not been compromised: after all, buyers got “merely” leaseholds of several decades, not ultimate ownership.”
In contrast the Tanzanian land reform programme known as Ujaama was a similar experiment in collectivisation. “Land reform was viewed as pivotal to the socialist agenda due to the centrality of agriculture in developing economies. Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere initiated one bold experiment in land reform in the late 1960s when he introduced the villagisation process called ujaama .. under ujaama tracts of land were transformed into community-based farming collectives.”
“13 years after its inception in 1967, it is now generally acknowledged that the policy of creating ujamaa villages has failed in terms of what they had been designed to achieve: namely, the building of a socialist society in the rural areas of Tanzania where more than 90 per cent of the population lives,” writes Zaki Ergas
Expropriation of land without compensation, centralisation and seizure of the commanding heights of the economy, all present attractive goals to doctrinaire socialists and communists. With elections around the corner, we ignore the abject lessons of history at our peril. Given our nation’s track-record of pragmatism and problem-solving, it would benefit everyone, if instead of shouting down ones opponents, we rather spent more time listening, opening the debate on land reform to discuss solutions based upon empirical evidence instead of purely ideological concerns.
Op-Ed published 8 March 2018, Natal Mercury
LAST week the Competition Commission announced that it was investigating 28 media companies, including Media24 for collusion on advertising pricing, and that Caxton and Independent Media had already pleaded guilty and/or had paid fines. The investigation avoids the troubling impact of cartel behaviour already demonstrated and reported here and here.
While some may accuse the CompCom of casting its net too wide, it is most certainly picking low-lying fruit and scratching the surface. One can only hope that its next port of call is to investigate the over-concentration and cross-ownership which is stifling journalists and readers alike.
Cartels and monopolies are not simply bad for business and competition but create the situation where news itself is overly centralised and where public opinion is subject to newsroom censorship. The result is bad for democracy and the outcome, the manufacture and manipulation of public opinion, unacceptable in a constitutional state.