Honest examination shows interests are not really so averse - Business Day

11 June 2018 - Life experience doubtless separates farmer from domestic worker, and so may language, culture, gender, religion, wealth, voting history, possibly even the ability to carry heavy loads on the head, but politically their interests converge fundamentally in the one place that matters as much to each of them for exactly the same reasons.

Michael Morris
As a source of anything approximating dependable insight dinner-party conversation can be unreliable, except for now and then revealing a piercing if unspoken truth. I’ll come back to that.

The same can be said of much of the national conversation, from the deliberately crafted political speech or sober reasoning of the opinionista to the slanderous caterwauling common to the tantrum corner of social media.

Land, the topic of the moment, is as good an illustration as any.

This single word, you could be forgiven for thinking, stands for everything that’s wrong with SA, the brokenness of an unhealed and uncooperative society, half-resentful, half-recalcitrant and so divided that it cannot find its way without being told where to go — against its will, if need be.

Judging by much of the debate about land today, this enduring assumption of naturally averse, if not always hostile, interests persists.

How else — against the tragically eloquent record of its historical failure, as we at the Institute of Race Relations have repeatedly warned – can we read the government’s stubborn insistence on forging a legal means of taking property without paying for it? Never mind the mounting doubts, against the looming June 15 deadline for public comment, that there’ll be time enough to think it all through rationally.

All of this plays into that vaguely understood sense, as pervasive as it is unexamined, of a society that doesn’t get on because its interests are so obviously averse.

But are they, really?

I have the most acute memory of a dinner party in early 1994 when all the talk — bullish, grateful, most of it – was the imminent presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela.

There was a shared sense of a country facing its problems as one and relief that, for all the unfinished business, at least the sapping divisiveness of the past could be left behind. It was all quite hearty.

Then, just when the pudding plates were being cleared away, a fellow guest — knowing I was a political journalist — turned to me to ask: "But, tell me, where will the whites belong … politically, I mean?"

Judging by much of the debate about land today, this enduring assumption of naturally averse, if not always hostile, interests persists.

Thus, various weighty pegs — reversing historical dispossession, redressing apartheid’s injustices, delivering long hoped for prosperity — have come to be attached to the maize fields and cattle ranches that stock our shops and supermarkets, contriving to place the farmer in the khaki shirt on the opposite side of a wide divide from the domestic worker and mother of three living on the periphery of a city.

To borrow British politician Geoffrey Howe’s emphatic phrasing, the distinction — and the same is true for that 1994 dinner-party question — is an "over-simplified choice, a false antithesis, a bogus dilemma".

Life experience doubtless separates farmer from domestic worker, and so may language, culture, gender, religion, wealth, voting history, possibly even the ability to carry heavy loads on the head, but politically their interests converge fundamentally in the one place that matters as much to each of them for exactly the same reasons.

It is true that for all their differences both are equally invested in and worried about their children’s education, high crime risks, rising prices, the quality of healthcare and the cost of transport, knowing that honest, effective government could address these with policy reforms you could outline on the lid of a shoebox.

But their paramount assurance of a better future is the security of knowing that what is theirs by their effort and thrift cannot be taken away. The other word for this is liberty.

When the 98% to 99% of people — as our research at the Institute of Race Relations shows — who are not seriously interested in becoming farmers themselves talk of the pressing need for land reform, what they really mean is a country which, broadly speaking, looks and feels as if everyone in it has a fair share and a fair chance.

This is a country, still in the making, in which everyone has a stake, not merely an abstract sense of belonging, but a material interest. And only one thing guarantees it: property rights.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations

 

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2018-06-11-michael-morris-honest-examination-shows-interests-are-not-really-so-averse/

© 2018 South African Institute of Race Relations
CMS Website by Juizi

Copyright | Accuracy Guarantee | Sponsors & Donors