Land not the most pressing issue, not even for EFF voters - Business Day

15 October 2015 - It has always been SA’s fate to be a profoundly mistaken society, thought to be so divided, its disparate parts so at odds, with so little in common, that only some imposed “solution” could ever succeed in cementing it. The people, by this reasoning, are always wrong.

Michael Morris

You couldn’t wish for a balder illustration of just how poorly our political leaders read us as a society, than the findings of the most recent Institute of Race Relations (IRR) poll on popular perceptions of land reform.

Of course, it makes perfect sense that, for the bulk of us, “jobs and unemployment, drug abuse, crime, education and healthcare dominate the list of priorities for voters”, as my IRR colleague, head of politics and governance Gareth van Onselen, writes in “The Criterion Report”, the inaugural edition of a new polling initiative.

After all, for all of us, whatever our status, these are the things that  will determine not only our wellbeing at any given time in our lives, but our sense of the future as a different, better place.

For most South Africans — especially the newly urbanised, the most eager among the two-thirds of us who live in towns or cities to reach the dream of stable, optimistic middle class life — the bright lights can seem dreary, hopeless and menacing without jobs, safety, good schools or well-run hospitals.

How can it make sense then, when in this most recent poll voters rate land reform as the lowest of their priorities, that “land” and the government’s stubborn commitment to expropriation without compensation as an urgent step towards acquiring it, have been the dominant themes of public debate for months?

It has always been SA’s fate to be a profoundly mistaken society, thought to be so divided, its disparate parts so at odds, with so little in common, that only some imposed “solution” could ever succeed in cementing it. The people, by this reasoning, are always wrong.

Much the same logic — inversely — justified the apartheid rationale that only enforced separation would ensure lasting stability.

All along, though, we have all wanted, and needed, essentially the same things. And today, more than at any time in the past  SA is a society discernible not by its fractions, but its whole, its common interests — as the IRR’s newest poll shows, like others it has conducted in recent years.

The tragedy is that the assumption of dividedness lends itself to cynical exploitation.

For the moment  it is useful, politically, to blame the well-off family living in suburban comfort for the continuing deprivation of the jobless mother of three living in a shack, in fear, and in want — even if, by releasing its extensive landholdings in the cities, and the vast sums it wastes on chronically mismanaged state enterprises, the government could transform her family’s life for good, along with the lives of countless others.

Eventually the deception won’t work anymore. The cost, however, will be high, and it will be a cost borne by the jobless mother of three and the many aspiring millions like her for whom the customary, false, assumptions about democratic SA have the most far-reaching consequences.

One of the virtues of research — long the mainstay of the IRR’s nearly 90-year contribution to the SA conversation — is that it exposes all such assumptions to scrutiny. Research also delivers intriguing contradictions that can help us to negotiate our way through the messier — and often, perhaps, more heartening — realities of where society is at.

Take the platform of Julius Malema’s EFF, a canny party that seems to have tricked the ruling ANC into stumbling down the expropriation road only to rob it of voters. It could reasonably be assumed that for presumably radical EFF supporters, land reform really is a pressing concern. Yet, as Van Onselen writes, this is “not a priority issue for EFF voters”.

More than that, wholly unexpectedly, land reform “not only ranks lowest among all voters, but lowest among EFF voters in particular (just 3% of EFF voters regard it as a priority issue)”. And who could have guessed that the EFF’s 3% “is a lower percentage than even among DA voters (5%)”.

Van Onselen writes: “it would appear that there is a significant disjuncture between the issues all parties focus on — and the EFF in particular — and the actual concerns of the voters they represent, of which jobs and unemployment is the standout priority”.

Will our political leaders listen, though? That’s the less heartening contradiction. Along with the trust that the poorest continue to be persuaded to invest in them.

• Morris is head of media at the IRR.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2018-10-15-michael-morris-land-not-the-most-pressing-issue-not-even-for-eff-voters/

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