Category: Editorial

Land ownership, is it so desirable?

PRIOR to 1994 persons defined as black did not possess the vote. The majority of people in South Africa were relegated to so-called independent homelands, most did not own land as such, and if they did, were dispossessed in one way or another by a labour system, which imposed a hut tax, drafted labourers onto the mines, and created a migrant population, which eroded both tribe and family, in the process shifting profit from the land, into the hands of the rand-lords and barons.

Some 87% of the land was thus owned by white persons under apartheid and only 13% by black persons. There was no child-care grant to speak of, no disability grant, pensions were skewed in favour of the white folk.

Today we all possess the vote, the social wage comprising child care grant, pensions, disability and veterans grant is growing, more black people own houses and vehicles than ever before and there is unprecedented level of economic activity and inclusion compared to similar periods during apartheid and sanctions.

More needs to be done. The country is beset by a taxation crisis, its fiscus strained by staggering levels of debt and its state-owned enterprises and interventionist strategies weighing heavily on the future outlook for the economy.

The controversial decision to adopt ‘expropriation of land without compensation’, taken at the ANC 54th Congress may seem like a panacea to socialists within the party and a magic bullet to members of the radical left opposition EFF, yet as both leaders of the DA and COPE have rightly pointed out, the constitution expressly forbids depriving citizens of property without compensation.

It is no policy to shout home about when South Africa is rated second on the world misery index after Venezuela, a country whose radical socialist programme the ANC is myopically imitating while under pressure from the far-left. Under Chavez, the country adopted nationalisation and expropriation as the solution to almost every problem, resulting in runaway inflation and a massive drop in living standards, in many respects a similar tragedy to what occurred in Zimbabwe.

Any foreigner listening to the opposition debate following SONA could be forgiven for believing that nothing substantial has changed since the first democratic election. The facts behind the reality of land ownership in South Africa are rather different than they were in 1994.

For starters, the post-apartheid state currently owns 14% of the land in the country , only 79.2% is in private hands.

Between 57-84% of homes owned and fully paid off in the country (depending on tenure) measured over the past year, were black owned, the result of mass state housing becoming available for purchase at low prices.*  This is not to say that the relative value of black-owned property versus white-owned property is something to be sneezed at, the value here is still undoubtedly skewed in favour of the white minority.

Likewise equity, when it comes to shares, 30% of the stock on the JSE is either in black hands, or in companies controlled by BEE, with the rest either “white-owned” or under foreign control. An uneven and unequal state of affairs that certainly deserves correcting. The question is how to close the gap? 

One need only examine two different models of socialism and their pedigrees to realise the abject lesson.  The one form of socialism is more consistent with the British welfare state than the hyperpopulism of Chavez and South Africa under Jacob Zuma, the other more consistent with Cuba and the Soviet Union than the Scandinavian social democracies in which a thriving market economy coexists with welfare as the result. 

One cannot have one’s cake and eat it is a popular saying that expresses the problem of two socialisms and not enough time and leeway to adopt or experiment with every socialist idea out there in the marketplace of ideology. The solution to Eskom for instance, isn’t to run the entire country like Eskom, again, our failing SAA and Metrorail systems offer stark reminders why the mantra of ‘jobs for life’, sheltered employment, cronyism, statism and nationalisation merely create unaffordable bureaucracies. 

The absence of economic calculation inherent to state bureaucracies has created a fertile bed for corruption and state capture, undoing the damage will of necessity entail frank and honest discussion as to what to do about these utilities. Adopting massive state intervention, without weeding out what has failed, from what works in our mixed economic system, is also not the solution to our countries troubles. 

Deregulation, competition, inclusion and participation are far better vectors of growth. I have already proposed the creation of an ‘energy commons‘ and ‘water commons’ in a deregulated environment, as a third way out of the socialism versus capitalism quagmire, the mess in which the bulk sale of services results in no service at all.

Is land ownership all that desirable if it comes at the expense of the social wage, dependent as it is on taxation? If all that one has is land but no access to capital, and no marketplace in which to sell one’s goods, what is the use of radical quick-fixes which merely return productive land over to subsistence agriculture?

Is the breakdown in social cohesion that will invariably result if the state is able to expropriate without compensation, really worth the trouble? White landowners, difficult as it may be, are unlikely to simply give up their land without costly legal battles, resulting in unintended and ancillary conflict. If anything the reality of implementing such a policy, one which would need to define both its victims and its beneficiaries, in terms that are anything but conducive to social cohesion, could make the land reform programme unworkable, at least without a resort to extra-legal and even violent means.

If there is no real security of tenure and the government not the courts is the final arbiter of who owns what — who is defined as ‘unwilling donor and willing recipient’ — what we will have will be no better than what occurred in countless failed economic systems, in which the state not the citizen comes first.

Despite the enormous gap in living standards which certainly need to be rectified (our Gini coefficient marking South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world), the Living Standards Measure (LSM) 10 has gone from 5% black in 2004 to 29% black in 2014. This is nothing to be sneezed at in the track record of our so-called ‘mixed economy’ or ‘developmental state’.

Another vector which analysts fail to explore, since it is often politically unpalatable,  is the fact that our population has grown from 20 million in 1960 to 52.98 million in 2013, which means we have more than doubled our population in 50 years. For every one job that would have been sufficient to provide an income and a house in 1960, three jobs must be created today.

Time for a four child only policy? Limiting our population over time would do a lot more to boost economic outcomes in the future than dooming generations to a form of land invasion multiplication in which invasions turn the countryside into nothing more than a slum chess board. One has only to examine China’s economic miracle to realise that densification alongside the building of entire new cities, and policies such as household responsibility under Deng Xiaoping, did more for the average worker than any rural reform under the previous Mao regime.

Another example I find fascinating is that of Singapore, for reasons that are very different to that provided by the Democratic Alliance. In fact I find it amazing that the opposition is unable to discuss the quasi-socialist policies implemented by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister. They are considered socialist since they entail some degree of intervention in the economic welfare of citizens and in a different manner than what is considered the norm in Western countries. 

Joseph Stiglitz in his New York times piece on the subject lists four distinctive aspects of the Singaporean model:

“First, individuals were compelled to take responsible for their own needs. For example, through the savings in their provident fund, around 90 percent of Singaporeans became home-owners.”

“Second, Singaporean leaders realised they had to break the pernicious, self-sustaining inequality that has characterised so much of the West. Government programmes were universal but progressive, while everyone contributed, those who were well off contributed more to help those at the bottom, t make sure that everyone could have a decent life … Not only did those at the top pay their share of the public investments, they were asked to contribute even more to helping the neediest.”

Stiglitz then goes on to list the distribution of pre-tax income to help those at the bottom and investment in education and scientific research as points three and four.

Yes, there is an urgent and drastic need for land reform, just as there is need for better internet access for the poor, for food and climate security (in the form of food garden allotments and renewables), community tool-shops which replace DIY with Do-It-with-Others (DIWO), and for a raft of safety and social security measures, but none of these need arise as a result of nationalisation of private property and expropriation without compensation. In fact a social wage that is both tangible and living standards-related may be a far better approach to the problem at hand.

There is a grave risk of Ramaphosa (or Zumaphosa?) carrying forth the Marxist shibboleth of ‘nationalisation at all costs’ and ‘expropriation of land without compensation’ by any means, and thus the lifting of assets from citizens, simply robbing the wealthy in order to sate the poor, to its inevitable conclusion. The eminent danger of making decisions based upon purely political considerations and thus based upon ideology instead of reality, could well see South Africa adopting the failed policies of Venezuela and Zimbabwe, without any regard for the consequences. 

We could do a lot better by simply listening to what economists have to say and deriving solutions from the hard lessons which have come before.

Of the four objective goals listed below and published here nearly three years ago, published under a similar piece, only one has been adopted by our government. I therefore provide these again to raise the agenda for a new South African future.

Unconditional basic income grant – this is a payment once a month into your bank account, to all citizens of voting age, essentially outlawing poverty and preventing the worst excesses of the marketplace, such as the coercion of labour.

Income equalisation – in jobs that are seasonal, a central fund evens out the high and low periods, guaranteeing safety when there is no work, and creating savings when there is not.

Rent stabilisation – a form of rent control, sets maximum rates for annual rent increases and, as with rent control entitles tenants to receive required services from their landlords and to have their leases renewed.

Free education grant – a tertiary level grant to learners enabling access to higher education.

*Source: South Africa Survey 2016, SA Institute of Race Relations.


Zille and all that Mmusi Jazz


A ploy to raise the stakes in bid for Presidency?

IT WAS inevitable that the opposition Democratic Alliance would arrive at its own Rubicon. The saga involving party stalwart Helen Zille, what she said or didn’t say, what was meant or not meant, the affectations of white liberal insiders, the embarrassing grand old colonial edifice and all its past glories, suddenly rendered impotent by a growing and vocal group of black entrepreneurs to its left and the irony of a conservative Afrikaner establishment to its right. Let’s just say that the old model of opposition politics no longer holds.

While cavalier, Mmusi Maimane was certainly reading the mood of the electorate, setting the stage for the 2019 general election, and his run for President in standing firmly against superiority, class attitudes and snobbery within his own party. Admittedly with this type of populism, it is all about political demeanour, perceptions and the will of the masses on the ground.

That national student movements such as SASCO found themselves weighing in on the subject, meant the DA, an alliance if ever there was one, was suddenly finding itself cast into the national spotlight. Provincialism of the kind articulated by Zille and her followers had no place. And hence while some bemoaned the outcome, a tragic fait accompli, it was inevitable that the party would find itself at a cross-roads, with a choice of futures. Can the DA ever hope to govern the nation, without creating tensions amongst its provincial partners?

It was no less than Douglas Gibson who first characterised the problem, Zille was past her sell-by-date. Thus Tony Leon soon found himself publicly praising Maimane for taking tough action against Helen over the colonialism tweets. While the prevarications and equivocations by the premier went from bad to worse. That the Cape Town lady was deploying the politics of World War 2 in her defence, admittedly of an Asian economic model merely made her arguments seem antiquated.

This was not a society gone racially mad but a case of corrective action, a necessary medicament arising from the furore surrounding a simple online tweet, and requiring a better perspective, than the past fiasco which had been a case of not growing up, or too much too soon —  the party head-hunted struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele mid-flight, in the last general election was unable to broker an effective alliance with its grass-roots ticket and thus a broad coalition of partners that could have produced a major victory for moderate black voters and their allies in the civil service and SOEs.

If the party is to have any hope of winning the next general election, it has to move forward under its current leadership. There are a number of caveats. Can the social wage be protected if not by social democrats? Whereto the provinces versus the national vote? Is there a way of saving the Western Cape’s unique character, given that the DA is an alliance, which has done remarkably well in South Africa’s metros? Where to Mmusi from here?

It was thus apt, that Zille announced her suspension today, with a tweet “DA has suspended me. They have agreed I can share my reasons why I should not have been suspended. Here they are:

Screenshot from 2017-06-08 18-51-45

Only time will tell whether or not this emerging political formation, untrammelled by the corruption within the current Zuma administration, and unhindered by the ideological baggage of the far-left, will pull through to its destiny in a future national cabinet. My bet is surely on Maimane for president, and come the next election, anything but the current Mafiosi state of Jacob Zuma.

2016 was our second best year yet

Medialternatives will be celebrating its 10th anniversary on WordPress this year. The stats show that last year was our second best year in terms of traffic, with some 23 591 unique views and over 17000 visitors.



Resist temptation to negate policy of non-alignment

SOUTH AFRICA has a long and celebrated history of non-alignment when it comes to the numerous wars between the great powers.

During the cold war, the ANC received funding from members of the Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact, but the party developed its own policies in regard to the apartheid regime.

Remarkable here are the historic ties with non-aligned Nordic countries, who also funded and supported the campaign against apartheid, so too, the significant role played by the African unity movement (and African Union) in developing a cohesive platform of independence and non-alignment.

Lately there are disturbing signs that our country is once again being drawn into a partisan global conflict, effectively taking sides in the Middle East War and the war in Syria. It would be foolhardy to ignore the recent hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal by the ruling party and what appears to be pro-Assad, pro-Iran policies slowly developing in relation to Syria, and of consequence, the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Early this year, South Africans were stunned to hear that a family of Syrian refugees in Cape Town have been told by a Home Affairs official that their asylum application was “unfounded”. The department declared their home country “stable” and rejected claims they feared for their lives if they returned to the war-torn country.

“Humanitarian aid was, therefore, not warranted,” the department’s finding is reported to have said. This is in line with the fiction created by Russia and other nations, that the diminished Assad regime is the only legitimate role player, and since it is officially not at war, and the conflict is ironically merely a “civil war” at best, the 450 000 people who have died in the region never existed.

Nelson Mandela shortly after his release and whilst on the Ted Koppel Show explained his principled position on the Middle East, in particular the Israel and Palestine conflict:

“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. “

“We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.”

“We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”

While Mandela’s position may no longer be considered relevant to the ruling party, any political pundit worth his or her salt would be abrogating responsibility in failing to consider the following facts, which present significant obstacles so far as the BDS version of history is concerned:

Firstly, the Assad regime has been at war with Israel since October 1973, when it attacked the country on the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur. Any support for the regime may thus have unintended consequences, that of deteriorating further into a religious war.

Secondly, the flag of Assad’s Ba’ath Party is the exact same Pan-Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies. BDS supporters may thus justifiably be accused of supporting the deaths of civilians in Syria in the name of Empire.

The influx of Arabs into Israel from Arab States, following the 1948 war, is well documented. Many of these Arabs were also Jews and Christians. Thus the problem in the region is not between black or white, but between right and wrong.

The position of Mandela continues to enjoy resounding support amongst South African Jews, the position of BDS on the other hand, in its evolving campaign, most recently articulated by the Media Review Network and others — namely that Israel has no right to exist, and consequently should be replaced by an Islamic State — has absolutely no support within this community, and where it does, such support should not be misconstrued as support on behalf of any one of the major religions.

Ideologically, those Jews, such as myself, who happen to be non-Zionist (and thus also non-Theist per se), have provided solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the years.

There was a time when such solidarity provided by the left was one of unconditional support. After so much death and destruction in the region, doing so without conditions is nothing but irresponsible madness. One has merely to point to the problem of 13 million Syrian-Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now in refugee camps in Jordan. That South Africa has a role to play in a negotiated peace, is clear. Our country also has a humanitarian role in assisting these Palestinians in relocating to our fine country.

I therefore wish to affirm here, that we are all hostages of the crisis, and thus hostages of the war, irrespective of our religious affiliation or otherwise, and that a secular solution — a negotiated settlement between the parties — is one that involves all parties, and thus both points of view. Such a solution, necessitates that we avoid taking sides as a nation, in what appears to be nothing more than a sectarian conflict, a partisan religious conflict as is the one over the Jerusalem-West Bank, which mirrors the neighbouring wars involving religion cascading around the Middle East.


Medialternatives makes top 100 South African blogs

Medialternatives has made the top 100 list of South African blogs according to myScoop. Entering the list of the countries most active blogs at 94 according to stats collated by Alexa and ranked by the South African blog community. Not surprisingly, Medialternatives is also ranked first in its category. Great to be here. Thanks to myScoop for providing an excellent service to local online media. It’s good to be number 1.


Crazy 2009 in review

As 2009 draws to an end, let’s see if we can remember any of the weird moments that made 2009 a crazy year. Here are my top ten news stories that flashed past my monitor screen.

1. Swine Flu Fever

Like Mad Cow Disease and Bird Flu, this story made news headlines by scaring everyone into thinking we were all about to die from the common cold. The killer pandemic, like earlier sensationalised reports,  turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of frightened liberals, scare-mongering all and sundry with scientifically unsound conjecture.

2. Twitter

Updating ones status took on an entirely new meaning with the microblogging platform coming of age. Twitter invoked a media frenzy about the death of the media as we all began following each other and tweeting. Needless to say, now even Yahoo has status updates — you can microblog from nearly any platform including your refrigerator. A case of the media caught up in a collective conversation that for once wasn’t of its own making?

3.  Susan Boyle

The sad and tragic tale  of Britain’s Got Talent contestant who rose to fame and then quietly disappeared after a nervous breakdown, grabbed entertainment columns everywhere as a new form of global culture was ushered in with Facebook, Youtube, DSTV and broadband connections. Needless to say, one wonders if pathos in the face of disability is the new black, or whether just plain butt ugly is the new shape of beauty in the world of tomorrow?

4. Iranian Revolution II

A story which mainstream newspapers in South Africa refused to carry in any detail rocked the online world as activists in the Islamic republic reported anti-government demonstrations and deaths at the hands of the Iranian secret police. Opposition leaders were arrested and the government went so far as to pull the plug on Facebook. Pity the O’Reilly and Murdoch media machine who continue to support the repression, torture and sentencing to death of pro-democracy dissidents.

5. 1989

One would think the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, or the 20th anniversary of the Cape Town Peace March, which ushered in the end of apartheid and the begining of democracy in our country would have been a big news story. Unfortunately the fascists at Newspaper House, SABC and eTV seem to be living in a coma of self-flagellating denial and censorship. The bad old days of apartheid were actually not that bad, at least we had an alternative press back then.

6. 2010, Fifa and the Soccer Stadium

Not even the suspicious death in January of a contractor veying for funding and the usual allotment of Euros from FIFA could distract us from the carnival of sleaze surrounding the World Cup soccer stadiums.  With the mink and manure set lavishing attention on South Africa’s “black diamonds” it seems the 2010 Football is all about making the rich richer, while the poor can  expect to see prices rise and rise as commercial interlopers take over. The Fifa franchise has asserted its intellectual property rights over your freedom and our municipal facilities.

7. Zuma and the Dalai Lama

Our president’s faux pas over Tibet seems to have been forgotten. What started out as an up yours to Freedom of Association, Freedom of Movement and Freedom of Religion, turned into a soul searching crusade as JZ joined a local charismatic church and found religion. Sadly it appears traditional African ancestral beliefs have lost out in the competition for votes.

8. Madiba Day

South Africa’s number one export, Nelson Mandela, lived up to his name by turning July 18 into an international public holiday. Madiba was given a concert in Central Park and deserves accolades for giving workers everywhere yet another excuse to lay off work.

9. Obama

While some might say the year began with the inauguration of America’s first black President, Obama quickly turned into just another white president by accepting the Nobel Peace Prize the very day after sending 30 000 soldiers into Afghanistan. That the prize was a booby trap meant to weigh The Man down, is certain, but at least have the decency to be the first person to decline the award, which many have criticised for being given too soon.

10. Mark Shuttleworth

Unbelievably, our local jingoistic press again failed to pick up on this one, as the brains behind Ubuntu took on the USA and won. The Linux-based OS is now up there alongside Windows 7 and OSX Snow Leopard. Then again, do we really need another Shuttleworth story? The boy genius however appears to have given us all the slip, after moving to London and joining Richard Branson in the competition for most youthful looking brand ambassador of our time.


Sunday Saloon: Hypocrisy as usual as whites barred

WHILE the outrage expressed by certain journalists of a paler complexion, at Friday’s re-launch of the Forum of Black Journalists (FBJ) is understandable (some white journalists were denied access while others were barred entry) – this blogger can only shake his head and remark at the hypocrisy of all concerned.

SANEF launched into a full scale uproar at Friday’s event, with a reaction which some called “rather stage-managed”, and yet the corporate editors forum continues to turn a blind eye to similar situations involving journalists in the lower ranks employed by its own affiliates.

SANEF have yet to comment on several allegations of discrimination against Media24 — a labour case has been lodged before the Labour Court in which it is alleged the company maintained and continues to maintain a system of racial profiling and racial segregation, particularly in one of its newspaper divisions, amongst other things.

As a struggle journalist who experienced the system of racial segregation first-hand, and having fought against racial prejudice, one would have thought the SANEF at least possessed the temerity to issue a letter of support. Not even a statement from the Freedom of Expression Institute has managed to galvanise these corporate sycophants into action.

Yes, the FBJ are being hypocritical in railing against the legacy of the apartheid system while at the same time, denying others the same right. No less than a show of solidarity amongst brothers will dispel this concern — If the FBJ is a product of the system, then surely it should not be prolonging the system any longer than is absolutely necessary?

Any structure based upon race is an obvious anomaly in the new South Africa, but is such a thing as the FBJ an incongruency out of step with the times? As many still argue, such structures are needed to address unique issues and special concerns raised by black journalists. To argue otherwise is to ignore the conditions under which black journalists have had to work, so the FBJ has my support.

SANEF on the other hand, are clearly nothing more than a gang of reactionary nincompoops driving around in expensive limo’s and as Polokwane has shown, increasingly out of step with the masses. SANEF has also been quick to criticize structures such as the FBJ — those which it perceives as a threat to the colonial legacy of baaskap under the current neo-conservative agenda while dragging heals on others.

What is good for the goose is surely good for the gander? Unfortunately SANEF does only what is necessary when it is convenient to do so and when its actions are unlikely to eat into the profits of its affiliates. Sheer hypocrisy of the highest order, amongst those who should know better.