14/03/2018 14:10 SAST | Updated 14/03/2018 14:17 SAST

The Land Debate Is Changing The Political Landscape

It has also revealed the underbelly of the failed reconciliation project in South Africa.

Esa Alexander/ Sowetan/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
The National Assembly during Cyril Ramaphosa's election as president of South Africa on February 15.

Marc Davies/ HuffPost SA


In December the ANC took a resolution on land. It was a quiet affair that gave the impression of a reluctant resolution. Despite the ANC president speaking about this at the January 8 statement rally, few took note. There was almost a sense of disbelief over the resolution – in many ways a resolution that was going against what the ANC has been doing on the land question since 1994.

The ANC otherwise did nothing about the resolution, until forced last week to vote for an EFF-initiated motion.

The reality is that the land debate has shifted the politics of South Africa for good, and it has also exposed the fact that the ANC was not ready to make the leap into the radical stance of expropriation of land without compensation. The EFF used the political opportunity gap to outshine the ANC and take the lead in this crucial debate.

I expected no less, because the question of land has been a consistent call of the EFF and its leaders, even prior to the EFF being born.

Upon arriving in Parliament, the EFF offered the ANC its six percent to change the constitution to make expropriation without compensation a reality. The ANC scoffed at this gesture and instead voted against the EFF on the land issue consistently. So it's going to need heightened propaganda to claim in the electoral campaign ahead of the 2019 elections that the ANC "has always been committed to the issue of land".

It is quite frankly sad that the ANC looks like a newcomer to the debate, making all kind of caveats that show that there is a part of it that is actually half-hearted about the whole thing. The apparently profound concerns about food security play into the narrative that black people won't know what to do with the land once it is returned to them, or that they need to be supervised about what to do with their own property.

One wonders whether the discussions flowing out of the ANC conference were so thin on the detail of implementation – that the ANC was satisfied with amending the EFF resolution instead of crafting one of its own as a leader in society. Of course, there would be no need for tabling your own motion if it has already been articulated even by your ideological enemy – but this is one of those terrible own goals which the ANC scored this time around, in the name of "political maturity" or even "expediency".

The land debate has also revealed the underbelly of the failed reconciliation project in South Africa.

The EFF has scored big time on this one, as they now can go and claim that they "led the ANC" into this fundamental resolution of economic freedom for the majority of South Africans. And maybe even those who doubt that the EFF should be given the opportunity to govern may start thinking twice. Why should they be left out of the government that must implement this vision they led almost all of Parliament to adopt? It surely can't be fair for them to be spectators while others implement what is going to be a difficult resolution to implement?

My sentiments do not mean I don't see the political opportunism that is also involved in the EFF move. Some argue that once the ANC passed the resolution in December, the EFF should have conceded that their one-key trump card for electioneering was gone. But the strategists in the EFF seems to be agile and fast-footed, and can now with their six percent claim the kind of impact you need 51 percent to make.

They knew very well that If the ANC were to be left to their own devices, it is not unreasonable to assume that a resolution passed at its national conference could easily take a decade to implement – the recent and fresh example is a resolution the ANC took ten years ago at its Polokwane conference on free education.

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South African students protest outside Parliament. October 21, 2015.

It took ten years and an uprising of the #FeesMustFall movement for anything to happen, despite this being a formal resolution of a national conference.

Its implementation was also rushed, and key ministries to implement it were taken by surprise as Jacob Zuma used this important issue as a party political football – announcing it with the hope of influencing the political outcomes of the ANC's elective conference. A shameful act, if you ask me – an act that failed dismally in the end.

The land debate has also revealed the underbelly of the failed reconciliation project in South Africa. It is sad that in the year that we celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela, his main project of reconciling our nation is exposed as having failed to make some privileged white people embrace a new South Africa.

The utterances of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leaders in Parliament a few weeks back – threatening all kinds of fire and brimstone through a civil war – is a sign that they have run out of ideas in the face of political parties uniting about what needs to finally happen on the crucial issue of land.

It is clear that the time for a kind of reconciliation that is based on avoiding tough economic questions is over. The FF+ and their ilk are playing a dangerous game. Maybe they do not believe that without a decisive intervention to tackle levels of inequality and poverty, South Africa is sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode and vanquish their dearly held privileges.

The fact that a relatively large percentage of land sits with white people after 24 years of democracy does not seem odd to these guys? It is a sign of utter complacency.

Bar the moribund COPE and ACDP, black parties seem to be on the same page about what needs to be done to tackle the horrific scourge of economic deprivation in the country and salvage the compromise settlement of Codesa.

The DA must also beware – nothing will endear them to the black community if they turn their backs on that community on issues as sacrosanct as land. Their strategists misfired when it made them side with the likes of FF+ on this debate. Surely as a party not in government, they had nothing to lose by symbolically supporting the return of land to its rightful owners?

Nothing stopped them from being the ones advancing amendments that show that they want to find a solution to this thorny issue. Now they stand to lose a window of government in the metros and possibly stand to lose ground for 2019. Their opposition to the land debate is inexplicable in political terms and was ill-advised.

Black people have been highly patient with our politicians in resolving the land question, and despite the political machinations that have brought us here, it's worth celebrating that bar the moribund COPE and ACDP, "black" parties seem to be on the same page about what needs to be done to tackle the horrific scourge of economic deprivation in the country and salvage the compromise settlement of Codesa.

Marc Davies/ HuffPost SA