Ecofreaks Podcast reaches Episode Five


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.


Grateful Dead lyricist, digital civil rights icon John Perry Barlow dies

John Perry Barlow, who wrote several Grateful Dead tunes with guitarist Bob Weir and formed the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in 1990 to try to shield online civil rights from government intrusion, died last Wednesday in his sleep. He was 70.

Throughout his life, Barlow was prolific in his writing; he was a frequent collaborator for Wired, the New York Times, and much more. He documented his cyber-spatial journey to Africa in his renowned Wired piece titled, Africa Rising: Everything You Know About Africa is Wrong.

“I am a pig for Africa. I want more. I can hardly wait to get back for a few more cracks at describing the Indescribable Continent, where darkness and light dance so beautifully. While there are, of course, plenty of reasons for caution and even despair in Africa, my giddy theories about the continent’s 21st-century info-economic potential seem so true now I can’t state them strongly enough,” wrote Barlow at the time.

It is no small feat that due to his courageous efforts, the care of the EFF alongside the anti-apartheid movement, that South Africans ended up with an Internet Friendly Constitution, several articles specifically relate to online communications freedom, were included in our foundation document during 1995, as cyberactivists canvassed government Ministers such as Jay Naidoo and Pallo Jordan shortly after the first democratic elections.

The author of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, John was a familiar and reassuring presence on the Internet. He last communicated on Tuesday evening and died after the Elon Musk event. Even though his postings and feed was coming less and less following his near death experience when he went into cardiac arrest for 8 minutes in 2015.

I first encountered John Perry Barlow in San Francisco, where he gave a talk at the Parallel University, later attending a book launch event hosted by ‘the Zippies’, his was a warm magnanimous spirit, and we maintained contact. In 2010 John retweeted my response to the Anonymous DDos attack against Mastercard. “Freedom of Expression is priceless, for everything else there is Mastercard” and “Freedom of Expression is priceless, for everything else there is error 401 timeout.”

Although EFF were critical of the 1994 Intervasion ‘Net Riot’, and world first DDos Event, of which I played an organisational role, we became chums. A rabble-rouser, raconteur, womaniser, activist and raver, I felt honoured to have him as a ‘friend and father’.

Sean Ono Lennon, 42, a singer-songwriter and the son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, also counted Barlow among his friends says: “John Perry Barlow was a master of all trades and jack of none. He was a wordsmith a songsmith, a tech wizard party maniac car mechanic and bona fide lady magnet of incomparable intellect. He was an angel and double agent, a prophet and pioneer of digital divination, a Master Mason, a Burning Man patron, an internet architect, and political maven, a psychedelic shaman, a counter culture statesman and a hero to great men. In the end he was still a Wyoming cowboy to the core, and above all else, he was a family man because to him nothing mattered more. John Perry Barlow, he set the bar high, with big boots to follow, and many will try, but no one will ever come close to the guy, for this grateful and graceful guru was one of a kind.”

Songs borne out of Barlows collaboration with ​Grateful Dead’s ​Weir include: “Cassidy,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Black-Throated Wind,” and many more until the Dead disbanded in 1995.


Day Zero Plans had to happen years ago, Cape Times, 2nd Feb 2018

​Dear Ed,

Day Zero Plans had to happen years ago, Cape Times, 2nd Feb 2018

I refer to the above article published by your newspaper last Friday in which your correspondent Lisa Isaacs refers to a 1990 report by the apartheid-era Water Commission. It appears the report warned, as did a similar Commission again in 2012 that water supplies would ‘dry up in 17 years’.

The article goes on to mention the late Barry Streek and what appears to be the first record of the issue in your paper during the early 90s. Unfortunately, the writer appears to be uninformed and disingenuous in suggesting that Streek and thus the racialised Water Commission, were the first to write anything at all about the coming water crisis.

I therefore wish to assure your readers that the anti-apartheid movement took a keen interest in water rights, with Earthlife Africa, itself then a newly formed environmental justice organisation, issuing a similar warning. Earthlife Africa “called on the city council to implement a holistic, integrated water management plan for the South West Cape.” The article was published under my own byline in January 1991, during the dying days of apartheid and thus in the runup towards the very first National Conference on Environment and Development and subsequent democratic election, where our constituent assembly proceeded to include the right to sufficient water as a fundamental human right.

The crisis in which we find ourselves today has its root in successive failures by the government and City management to come to grips with climate change. The events which are now occurring were indeed, predicted to occur over the second decade of the new millennium, as was reported not simply by Streek, but also by myself writing in the struggle press and thus subsequent issues of South EcoAction.

Mitigation solutions placed on the table by environmentalists and activists back then, were inter alia, recycling water, desalination and towing icebergs. Instead of playing down such interventions, people should have listened and paid more attention to what the science and evidence provided by ecologists were saying.

Far from being a liberal affair, the history of water usage and the development of water rights in South Africa pre-dates both colonialism and the apartheid state. It it thus pure revisionism on Isaacs’ part to quote the apartheid Water Commission’s own. One should rather turn to DD Tewari of the School of Economics and Finance, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal who in his analysis of water rights thus states: “Prior to colonisation of South Africa, African customary law governed water rights in the pre-colonial society.” Water allocation here was based, not upon ideals of the sovereign individual, rather once contested, ‘it was for the community to decide upon the fair allocation of water.’

The arrival of the Dutch and thus Roman-Dutch law at the Cape in 1652, saw the application of Roman water law, “a primitive system … used to regulate the legal relationships within the farming community along the Tiber River in the Roman Empire about 2 000 years ago.” Roman law as any law student can tell you, recognises 3 classes of water rights: private, common, and public. Significantly the establishment of Dutch control of water resources in the Table Bay Valley came in two phases, Tewari says, first ‘the granting of entitlements from streams in which colonists took control of the streams’, and the next phase in which they declared absolute ownership or ‘eminent domain’ over the water and the land’, as their ‘expansion of sphere of influence’ broadened.

The British period saw the “engineering of change” in all areas including water rights regulation. Whereas during the earlier Dutch rule, water was a very scarce resource relative to land mass and hence Dutch colonists made laws to regulate water use in the interests of the Company. Tewari says “by the time the British came into power, land had become relatively scarcer than water as a result of increasing immigration from Europe and the increasing populations of Trek-Boers and native Africans. All developments in water rights during the British regime thus reflected the predominance of land or agriculture (land-intensive industry) in the economy. Consequently, irrigation development played a major role in the moulding of early water policy, infrastructure, economic and social development in South Africa.”

The tragic situation in which ‘institutions created by the then governments intervened in the development of water resources in favour of the White agricultural community’ played itself out, even through successive periods of drought. While Tewari sees the movement of what became known as ‘riparian rights’ away from the company and state control, towards individual white farmers who could sue those possessed of entitlements upstream, he noted the return to earlier state hegemony and control during the apartheid period.

In 1950, for instance the landmark Commission of Inquiry into Water Matters known as the Hall Commission, was formed to look into drought conditions affecting parts of the country and thus also the general lack of water amongst the population. As a result, the Water Act of 1956 replaced the Irrigation Act of 1912. In brief, the new Act moved away from the riparian rights principle, “which worked well as long as water was used primarily for agricultural purposes” and back again towards the earlier enunciation of eminent domain status ‘of the state through government control areas’. Tewari says: “The distinction between the public and private water from the previous Act was retained and refined further. The idea of public water and its classification into normal flow (which would be divided between the riparian owners) and surplus flow (where, in flood times, riparian owners could take as much surplus as they were able to use beneficially), which was introduced in 1912, was further improved.”

Your correspondent fails to make the point so elegantly put by Tewari: “The colonial water rights policy excluded the Africans who could not compete in the land markets freely and also did not have the resources to do so where such access was possible.” While it is unnecessary to repeat the swathe of legislation and many rules depriving black South Africans of water rights, one feels duty bound to add that it was the environmental justice and anti-apartheid movement and its allies, which sought to correct the imbalance of history. The result is article 24 which celebrates the rights of our Earth viz. vi. the needs of future generations, and article 27 which presents a challenge to both the City and the state in the right to sufficient water for every citizen.

That we are living in a period of water crisis today is due in part, to our nation’s forgetting its genesis in a rights-based culture. Only by remembering our collective history can we hope to survive and surmount the future challenges presented by climate change.

Sincerely yours

David Robert Lewis

[Letter unpublished due to the religious nutjobs bigots & apartheid denialists at the Cape Times]


RSA Water Management Timeline

1990 Water Research Commission warns of a 2007 shortage, when all current water resources fully committed (article published by Barry Streek, Cape Times, April 1990)

1991 Earthlife Africa warns of new millennium water crisis, (article published by David Robert Lewis, South Press, January 1991)

1993 Terry Bell of Argus Group writes on impending water shortages.

1994 Post-Democracy Water Dept. under Kader Asmal adopts a comprehensive water conservation and demand strategy.2002 National Water Resource Commission predicts three crisis areas, including Berg and Vaal River, and water deficit of 508 million cubic metres per year in the Cape.

2012 Water Research Commission repeats its concerns in a report to Parliament. CSIR begins Water Sustainability Flagship.

2017 CSIR publishes report in March “Protecting South Africa’s Strategic Water Resources“, confirms potential for water crisis if climate change continues on its current trajectory. Earlier reports project “Environmental Refugees”.

City of Cape Town announces that it is facing a humanitarian crisis surrounding an ongoing drought and that Day Zero will occur in April of 2018

2018 Cape Town becomes poster-child for Climate Change and a cautionary tale told at Davos. Al Gore speaks out.

Water and Sanitation spokesperson denies there is a “Day Zero”, claims current water supply strategy is sufficient, “our planning is that we do not even have a Day Zero. Our planning is that we do not have a system failure.”


Earthlife Africa warned City of new millennium water crisis

EARTHLIFE Africa warned Cape Town of a water crisis over the new millennium as far back as 1991. While writing on environmental issues for the anti-apartheid press, I was lucky enough to interview both ELA members and the Dept of Water Affairs. Plans mooted back then, included tapping the Atlantis and Cape Flats aquifer, desalination, and “towing icebergs”. South Africa has a base in Antarctica, could towing an iceberg to Cape Town be the solution?.

Here is the story under my own byline.

Cape Town’s Water Crisis
Southside Environment, South Press January 16 – 22 1991
by David Robert Lewis

Cape Town could run out of fresh water by the year 2000 if the city’s scarce water resources are not managed more efficiently, say environmentalists.

According to a document released by Earthlife Africa, water consumption in the Western Cape is about 245 000 megalitres a year. It is estimated this figure will double by the year 2020.

City May be running on Empty, DR Lewis South 1991

South January 1991

The quest for alternative sources of water is a pressing issue, says the group, yet a lot of fresh water is going down the drain and into the sea. There are plans to bring water from the Berg River to supplement Cape Town’s dwindling supplies.

There is also the contentious prospect of the Lower Palmiet River Scheme which envisages putting the unique fynbos and potential tourist area in the Kogelberg mountains under water.

The area is one of the last intact fynbos strongholds.

A report drawn up by the Cape Nature Conservation Department cites the Kogelberg as a potential World Heritage Biosphere Park.

The damming of the Palmiet would not only destroy the Kogelberg and open the are to invasion by alien species, but would also infringe on some of the most productive farming land in the Cape.

At a public meeting held by the Department of Water Affairs last year, Mr Kobus Esrasmus, the department’s deputy director, conceded the Kogelberg area and the Palmiet estuary could be damaged by the department’s proposal to dam the Palmiet River.

But he gave an assurance the plan would not be implemented without “exhaustive public debate on all alternatives”.

Other options are the introduction of water-saving devices, tapping groundwater sources such as the Cape Flats and Atlantis acquifiers, reusing treated effluent, desalination and towing icebergs.

The Palmiet scheme would be the most economically viable, according to Mr Hennie Smit, planning engineer for the Department of Water Affairs.

Earthlife Africa has called on the city council to implement a “holistic, integrated water management plan for the South West Cape” and believes “the Kogelberg State forest should not be sacrificed in such a plan”.

They also indicated that sea pollution caused by the disposal of effluent as well as run-off from stormwater drains could not be examined in isolation.

All waste water ending up in the sea must be regarded as “throwing away a potential useful resource”, the group said.

A successful pilot water reclamation project using “treated waste waters” had been completed in Cape Town in 1986.

Although the cost of reclaiming water was high, a project report indicated improved technology “would significantly reduce the production cost of a full scale plant.”
It was further contended that the cost of fresh and reclaimed water would be similar in future.

Tapping groundwater aquifers could yield an additional volume of water. Paradoxically, pollution associated with the lack of sanitation in the Cape Flats and the lax water control standards for industrial areas, present the biggest hurdles to such a proposal.

This disregard for the integrity of natural water reserves in the region made a comprehensive water quality plan even more urgent.

According to Erasmus, a series of “public participation exercises” was being arranged by the department culminating in a major workshop where recommendations could be made to the government on the issue of water supply.

Desalination of seawater could in theory provided unlimited quantities of fresh water. The high cost would put such a scheme out of bounds until a cheap supply of energy was found.

It has been calculated that desalination plant capable of supplying Cape Town’s water needs over the next 10 years would require the output of a power station the size of Koeberg 1.

Desalination could be a viable option if introduced on a smaller scale in conjunction with other projects.

Implementing water-saving legislation would ultimately be the easiest and most economic way to alleviate the problems caused by the increase in population in Cape Town.

Providing incentives to industry to reduce their water use while making water-saving devices more economical would reduce the overall consumption of water.

Simple changes in lifestyle for those used to cheap and readily available water could result in extraordinary savings.

In one example given, a family of four showering instead of bathing could save three to four hundred litres of water a day.

Unfortunately, recent decisions such as the one to construct a new marine outfall pipe at Green Point leave little hope that wisdom will outweigh economic shortsightedness in determining the outcome of Cape Town’s water situation in the future.