28/02/2018 13:42 SAST | Updated 01/03/2018 06:26 SAST

Expropriation: Ramaphosa And Malema NOT Saying The Same Thing

Yes, both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Julius Malema are saying "Take land without paying!" However, only one of them is saying: "BUT..."

Farmers work on a land outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the North West province, South Africa November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Farmers work on a land outside Lichtenburg, a maize-growing area in the North West province, South Africa November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

There's been a gnashing of teeth in some quarters and a gushing over the EFF in others, after Tuesday's decision by the National Assembly to look at amending section 25 of the Constitution, the so-called "property clause".

Yes, Parliament will now consider changing the clause to enable a form of expropriation without compensation as advocated by the EFF. But there is still an enormous amount of water to run from the Gariep River into the Atlantic Ocean before the country's founding document is changed to allow for Julius Malema's populism.

President Cyril Ramaphosa – and now the ANC – has been consistent in his message on the issue. Yes, he took part in the sloganeering at Nasrec and beyond, but it has every single time been followed by some serious caveats. And those caveats make the type of expropriation that Malema is selling, and what many are hearing, impossible.

The ANC's national conference at Nasrec was wholly dominated by the mortal battle between Ramaphosa and the reformists on one side, and the rent seekers on the other. There was no time and space for any serious policy debates. The land-reform decision – which echoes Malema's cries – was simply bulldozed through while half the delegates were either recovering from the bruising leadership battle, or were angry at having lost it.

The ANC did not have a proper and considered internal debate about the issue. The concession to "take land without paying for it" was the losers at Nasrec claiming some form of victory... and the rest letting sleeping dogs lie.

When Ramaphosa delivered his maiden speech as ANC president in the early hours of December 21 last year, he agreed: "Take the land without paying for it!" But in the din that followed, his enormous "but..." was lost. "Take the land!" he said. "But it must not jeopardise food security, destabilise the agricultural sector or hurt the economy."

Ramaphosa reinforced the message at his maiden state of the nation address (Sona), as well as in his reply to the subsequent debate in the National Assembly.

And now the ANC has amended Malema's original motion, scrapping a paragraph that referred to a programme of "radical land reform... that entails expropriation of land without compensation" and replacing it with Ramaphosa's caveats.

These caveats re-emphasise that the country's agricultural sector – the best performing sector in the economy last year – needs to be protected. And the only way in which to protect it, is by guaranteeing property rights.

Ramaphosa and the ANC's vision of "expropriation without compensation" is vastly different to Malema and the EFF's – that much is clear. The new president agrees that government's land-reform programme has been a failure, and that it in itself needs to be reformed. There needs to be redress, and the issue must be aired and ventilated properly.

However, the president might be buying time now – by technically being clear in his position that land (property?) won't be "smash and grabbed", as he has said.

But that's not what many are hearing.

And that's where the danger lies.