Land & outlandish promises in SA

Posted on April 24, 2019


Outlandish. It means looking or sounding bizarre. And it’s a word that seems singularly appropriate in South Africa at this time of frenetic electioneering aimed primarily at working people — employed and unemployed, urban and rural— who form the bulk of the electorate.

Extravagant— outlandish — promises are the stock of the political elite as they seek the votes to install them at the parliamentary trough. Take the guarantee by President Cyril Ramaphosa that the ANC would build one million new houses in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township — in five years.

One million houses? For a population of anything up to half a million people living on 800 hectares which, government admits, has the infrastructure — water, sanitation etc — to cater for 70 000 residents? The mind boggles.

And older residents, among them trade unionists who were part of the militant “Alex” anti-apartheid resistance of the 1980s, have heard it all before. As recently as 2001, then President Thabo Mbeki announced a R1.6 billion Alexandra Renewal Project that promised between 50,000 and 66,000 new homes in seven years. What happened to the money and the project is still being investigated.

However, even more outlandish than the 1 million houses in five years was the pledge from Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). An EFF government, they promised, would provide every informal settlement dweller with a proper house with flushing toilets and hot and cold running water — in just two years.

But land also remains at the centre of present political discourse, especially when the ANC, the EFF and the self appointed collective imbongi (praise singer) of North Korea, Black First Land First (BLF) face off. Here it is that some of the more — no pun intended — outlandish comments are made, including an EFF promise to “immediately” give away to “the people 50% of all government land”.

There were classic examples in Durban last week at the Articulate Afrika book fair. The discussion on land featured ANC heavyweight and former KZN premier, Senzo Mchunu, the KZN representative of the EFF, Vusi Khoza and his BLF counterpart, Thobani Zikalala.

All three laid claim to being the first and most determined to see “land given back to the people”, along with mention of food self sufficiency. Which did seem rather bizarre since the packed audience clearly comprised almost exclusively urban dwellers, a fact confirmed by some random questioning.

But land and its expropriation was the common theme, along with the need to amend Section 25 of the Bill of Rights. In the process, nobody, either from platform or floor, quoted from this section which only twice mentions land — in the two paragraphs of the fourth clause.

Section 25 actually allows for the expropriation of any property, provided it is “for a public purpose or in the public interest”. And “public interest” includes “commitment to land reform” and to provide “equitable access” to the country’s natural resources. The pertinent second paragraph states: “property is not limited to land.”

Perhaps because all parties want to woo the rural vote and still see traditional leaders being able to determine the electoral choices of their subjects, there was no mention of what senior ANC members have termed the “Bantustan Bills”. Yet the Traditional and Khoisan Leadership Bill and the Traditional Courts Bill are on the verge of being signed into law.

Together, they reinforce the Bantustan balkanisation of the country and remove from the general rule of law, some 17 million people who live in what the apartheid state called “tribal homelands”. These remain the reservoirs of migrant labour, so it is not outlandish to suggest that the labour movement should take a stand against such measures.