Will Ramaphosa lead SA towards land reform?

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Colleta Dewa Johannesburg

 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been challenged to take the issue of land expropriation without compensation seriously but carefully to serve both the economy and the cause of the black majority.

 

In his state of the nation address (SONA) in parliament last week, Ramaphosa emphasised the need for land reform but did not give a time frame. He said this was to be implemented in a way that does not harm the economy.

"We will pursue a comprehensive approach that makes effective use of all the mechanisms at our disposal," said Ramaphosa.

His speech did not go down well with the Black Land First movement (BLF), which argues that the economy is being controlled by the white minority hence it is obvious that they will sabotage any move to take land from them.

In an interview with The Southern Times, BLF deputy president Zanele Lwana dismissed Ramaphosa’s speech on land expropriation as mere politicking and an insult to the rights of the people of South Africa saying he lacked sincerity and was not acting in earnest.

"I don't' think Cyril Ramaphosa is serious about land expropriation without compensation.  He said land expropriation without compensation and it should be done within the confines of the law. He does not even stop there, he says ‘provided this does not have a negative impact on the economy’,” said Lwana.

“That is being very dishonest because of the fact that the economy of the country still remains very white and it is the white minority that took land from the black natives of this country so if the white community was honesty about land redistribution, we would have expropriated land now 23 years into democracy but it is clear that the minority wants to hold onto the uneven ownership pattern that favours them."

Lwane added that the probability was high that land reform would be sabotaged by the whites because they controlled the economy.

"Land expropriation without compensation means dismantling colonial patterns in the country. The powerful white minority are going to terrorise the economy of the country and get the West to impose sanctions just like they have done in Zimbabwe.  So, when Ramaphosa says ‘land redistribution without compensation provided it does not have a negative impact on the economy’, he is basically cancelling the whole resolution.

“So, I think maybe if we are to achieve land redistribution, we need to mobilise ourselves as the black majority and even outside ANC because they don't seem to be honest about that.  With a president like Ramaphosa who is very close to white business and is celebrated by white mainstream media in this country, I don't think we are going to get it under his leadership."

Political analyst Munya Bonjo told The Southern Times that the issue of land expropriation without compensation was not an exercise which can be loosely talked about and embarked upon irresponsibly. 

He said the government needs to be wary of some unexpected consequences if it fails to tackle the move with all due political and economic wisdom.

"The idea itself sounds reactionary, radical and inarguably at sharp variance to modern democratic traits and practices.  Ramaphosa can't surely be foolhardy to toe the opposition's line to the detriment of the economy, food security and well-being of South Africa," he said.

Bonjo also referred to the manner in which land was distributed in neighbouring Zimbabwe saying the country which was once the breadbasket of Africa was affected largely by the way the land issue was handled.

"This, we are all aware, led to Zimbabwe's problems. If at all this programme was to be blindly implemented there would be definitely consequential backlashes, including loss of investor confidence, isolation and a lot of other undesirable phenomena and messy exigencies," he said.

Zimbabwe was placed under crippling Western-backed economic sanctions after it embarked on land reform in 2000, spawning economic challenges that have bedevilled the country since then.

The outspoken critic of the ANC, Julius Malema, who is also the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, said he believes that his party was the only shoulder to reckon with regarding economic emancipation of the black majority.

During a debate in parliament last week, Malema accused Ramaphosa of bluffing about land redistribution.

"This cannot be an issue to bluff about.  This cannot be an issue to pass time with. It's an emotive issue and you only mention it if you mean it," he said.

Ordinary South Africans expressed different views regarding the matter with some vowing to hit the streets if the issue is not resolved with urgency.

Ndabazitha Ntuli, a vegetable vendor in Johannesburg, said:

"We have become street vendors but our fathers went to war for us to enjoy the riches of our nation. All the presidents that have held office before were sellouts.  They did not have the guts to kick the white man from our land."

Benjamin Sithole, a taxi driver in Johannesburg, added:

"Thina we are good at toi toi. When the time comes and we are fed up we will do what we know best and force the government to act. We have hope in Ramaphosa and we also hope he will honour his word and bring fairness to us."

Ugogo Mandlovhu, a former Umkhonto Wesizwe fighter, said:

"Ever since the end of apartheid, I have lived as a squatter.  No decent accommodation, no decent meal but I fought for the freedom enjoyed today. I want to be restored. Maybe Zuma was going to remember us one day since he was one of us. This Malema, I don't have hope in him."

Passmore Segu, a teacher, said: “There is no need to disturb our peace and economy with the land issue. We will end up disturbing our economy, let sleeping dogs lie.” 

The land issue remains very sensitive and complicated not only in South Africa but across the southern Africa region with countries like Namibia also grappling with it.

There have been calls by Namibia’s Landless People’s Movement for the government to embark on land reform to address imbalances in the ownership of the resource.

Fears of souring divisions and disunity among the people as well as the horror of a rebellion by the white landowners which might hinder economic growth are some of the clear setbacks for land reform in the region.

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