Guest post: Misrepresenting what is already an alarming situation doesn’t help

Originally a comment by Bruce Gorton on The news has been all over South African media for months.

The thing with the farm attacks is that they are not particularly out of line with the general level of criminality within South Africa. The murder rate is very high no matter who you are, so it is actually more to do with the gross incompetence of our government than anything intentional.

It isn’t a matter of black people rising up against a past oppressor, it is a matter of criminals targeting the places where there is stuff to steal. The same level of brutality is unfortunately present within crime that hits informal settlements, business and suchlike.

With regards to the land expropriation debate – it isn’t entirely clear what is going to happen with it. Ramaphosa claims that the constitutional amendment he’s after is going to strengthen property rights, which it might due to provision 8 in section 25 of the South African constitution reading as follows:

8. No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provisions of this section is in accordance with the provisions of section 36(1).

Which essentially means so long as the government justifies it by saying it is to correct the imbalances brought about by the long history of South African racism, it can do what it likes right now. The amendment might restrict them further.

The big scary thing in South African politics is Julius Malema, who has stood up in Parliament and declared whites should be grateful that he isn’t calling for genocide yet. The whole land expropriation debate is essentially aimed at taking the wind out of his sails,

The post Apartheid government more or less took after the US on the economy. One of the first things they did was lower taxes, followed by adopting a policy of pursuing foreign direct investment, and pushing a reserve bank policy of inflation targeting.

This is a policy set which favours the asset holders, who, due to apartheid, are mostly white. Our economy has lost diversity with larger businesses slowly taking over smaller ones, and we’ve seen an overall increase in the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands, which were mostly already rich in 1994.

The whole expropriation debate essentially is a thing because of this. With regards to our farms for example, about 50% of our new farmers, who got farms under the post Mandela policy of land reform failed due to a lack of training and finance, and their farms went on the market and got bought by larger farming concerns because that’s who had the money to buy them.

A lot of these large concerns then started evicting farm workers and shutting down the schools that operated on those farms, creating a lot of the tension you see now.

Our issues have been further compounded by massive corruption in our government. During the Jacob Zuma era, despite his rise being in part on the basis of “radical economic transformation”, land reform essentially stopped as funds that were supposed to aid black farmers get off the ground were diverted to his homestead, or his corrupt cronies.

Now during Apartheid and the era before that, nobody paid black farmers who lost their land. At best a tribal authority might have gotten some compensation, but black South Africans didn’t get to pick their tribal authorities so it was a bit like you lost your house, and some random dude got paid a few hundred bucks compensation. One of the sore points of the new dispensation is the maintenance of these authorities who will quite happily evict people from their homes if Anglo American wants to build a mine under them.

Part of the land reform debate was actually about this problem, Kgalema Mothlanthe’s report on the Ingyoma Trust was essentially that it should be dissolved and the land under it given to individual Zulus with title deeds, rather than have it all belong to the Zulu king, because he wasn’t serving his people he was serving himself. The ANC and the EFF both wussed out on tribal lands however when the Zulu king threatened to start a civil war.

The upshot of all of this being economically we’re not all that different now to how we were under Apartheid even though there is no active policy of maintaining our inequalities. The land redistribution debate is born of the frustration that this has caused within our country.

Malema has been tapping into the general dissatisfaction this has caused to call for the nationalisation of all South African land, mines and banks. Malema’s racism goes beyond whites of course, he is also noted for his anti-Indian sentiment, and his party isn’t above feeding into general xenophobia either.

Though the EFF is only the third largest political party in South Africa, there is the risk that they use that general anger in South Africa to grow. Nobody who doesn’t wear a red beret wants that.

TLDR: You’ve got a bunch of people who were essentially robbed under apartheid and colonialism, who, once those systems ended, still didn’t get their stuff back, and a major political party pushing for taking that stuff back, and the ruling party more or less trying to figure out a way to do that in a way which won’t end up with the whole country going up in flames.

Misrepresenting what is already an alarming situation doesn’t help.

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