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.