Watershed moment will determine if SA stays a free and open society – IRR - Politicsweb

Feb 28, 2019
28 February 2019 - Unable to reform, the ANC is likely to preside over an economy that is unable to grow, and so to turn instead to racial nationalist incitement to detract attention from its failures, animate its supporters to vote, and to open the way to the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law – should it in time come to that.

Terence Corrigan | 

Address by Terence Corrigan of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) at the launch of the Southern African Agricultural Initiative (SAAI) in Pretoria.

It is a great pleasure and great honour to be here to speak at the launch of the Southern African Agricultural Initiative. For years, we at the institute of Race Relations have taken a keen interest in the fate of the farming sector – both out of concern for its own sustainability, and for what it signifies for the country as a whole.

Today’s proceedings are taking place against a set of deeply concerning political and policy developments. These will inform the role that your organisation and organisations like it will play in the coming months and years. This role may well be far more important than you anticipate, and may echo far beyond your constituency.

Many years ago, my colleague Frans Cronje spoke on the same stage as a prominent Zimbabwean farmer who wept as he described how he regretted that when they came to him he did not tell his countrymen what he feared the evidence clearly showed about the trajectory of that country – but told them instead, in the face of that evidence, what he knew they wanted to hear, that it would all be alright. Had they known what was coming, they might have acted to avert disaster. For several decades it has been possible for IRR analysts to at the same time tell the truth about our country while arguing that tomorrow will likely be better than today. But that is no longer the case. As much as we would want to say ‘it will all be alright’ we have to be guided by actual government policy, the ideology that underpins that policy, and the trends that follow. And what this establishes – there can be no other conclusion – is that South Africa’s future as a free, open, and prosperous society is far from assured and that the trends now in evidence could easily tip our country into a future of poverty and chaos.

Established in the 1920s, the IRR rose to become the most influential anti-apartheid think tank in the world and forged its unique methodology of using rigorous analysis, face-to-face lobbying, and media pressure to persuade politicians, government officials, and business leaders to abandon bad policies and adopt those that would advance South Africa’s future as a free and open society. It has throughout that history advocated for the rights of individuals to make decisions about their own lives, families, and businesses, free from unnecessary government, political, and bureaucratic interference.

In her The South African Institute of Race Relations 1929-1979: A Short History, published in 1979, Ellen Hellmann said “the essence of the Institute’s work, trying to influence the minds of men, is by its very nature imponderable. Many believe that the effort has been meaningful … and derive comfort from the fact that proposals that appeared at first heretical when expounded on Institute platforms have become commonplaces today”.

It is exactly the role we continue to play today and we again confront a daunting series of crises:

Today, less than half of young people have work – and on current trends will never work;

There are now more people in welfare than in employment;

The quality of maths and science education in schools is rated at 128 out of 140 countries;

Roughly 5 of every 100 children will go on to pass maths in matric with a grade of 50%;

Half a million of people have been murdered since 1994 at a rate which is today 30 times higher than in most societies for which information is available – and which makes South Africa a more dangerous place that many other developing societies;

Government debt levels have doubled over the past decade, the deficit again plumbs apartheid era lows, and the state is fast running of money;

Even if Treasury forecasts are realised, South Africa will remain an emerging market laggard in terms of rates of economic growth; and

Less than half of people with matric are inclined to vote ANC along with less than a quarter of university graduates – in fact fewer people vote ANC than those who will not vote, while rates of violent protest action are up over 300% over a decade - collectively pointing to the prospect of political defeat for the ANC by the end of the decade.

As the fiscal and political pressure builds, the ruling party displays ever more dangerous behaviour. It turns with ease to hate-filled racial nationalist rhetoric, it sides too comfortably with some of the most oppressive regimes in the world, it proposes media tribunals and hate speech laws, and in response to depressed economic conditions it offers more state encroachment. There will be state-owned mining, and banking, and even pharmaceutical firms, poverty will be addressed via redistribution, historical injustices via expropriation, racial divisions via the stricter enforcement of racial quotas, and jobs will be created by stricter labour laws and higher minimum wages. Perhaps most concerningly, it moves towards eroding the property rights that anchor human liberty in all free societies, opening the way to the further erosion of civil rights and the rule of law.

Many otherwise sensible analysts try to rationalise or normalise this behaviour to the point that they would have us believe that what we see with our own eyes is not really happening. Nothing to see here, folks. It is all part of an elaborate ‘long game’ that ends with a ‘new dawn’.

The argument goes something like this:

The State/ruling party only assaults property rights/racial minorities/black critics/Western democracies/the market economy/freedom of speech and the rule of law in order to outwit those who would otherwise do so. And that in order to prevent such assaults you must support those leading the assaults, and even join in the assaults, because only if those now driving the assaults become even more powerful will they stop doing that which they are already so far advanced in doing. Give them a bigger electoral mandate, therefore, and the processes now in train will miraculously reverse themselves to produce a new dawn where property rights are secure, race and social relations are sound, the private sector rebuilds the economy, and civil rights and the rule of law are secured.

It is all quite, completely, and utterly mad.

We South Africans often tend towards optimism. We believe that we can beat the odds – after all, we’ve done it before. But there is an insidious side to this, the idea that recognising the scale and seriousness of the problems that confront us is in some way heretical, an act of disloyalty or even racism. Raise these concerns, and a chorus of voices – not just in government, but in civil society, in the media, in academia and in business – will rise in indignation.

Yet in our own experience, there are large and growing numbers of South Africans, black and white, rich and poor, spread across the length and breadth of the country who fear for their futures and those of their children. We can show you polling data on popular confidence. We can also show, always most revealing, data on how much private wealth has exited our country.

We are regularly confronted by ordinary decent hard-working South Africans who see through the faux confidence of the organised business community, express their disgust at the corruption and ineptitude of the ANC, their disappointment at the lack of courage of the DA, their revulsion at the racism and unruliness of the EFF, and their hope and desire that someone will speak for them and their aspirations to live in a country that is prosperous and peaceful and where people are free to choose how they want to live.

These people are probably substantively represented among your own constituency. I am told that it is your aim to represent the family-based commercial farm. These are often smaller operators whose lives depend on constant and sustained effort. They do not have access to political influence, and are vulnerable to being traded off by the larger influences that loom large in our politics.

Today we are at a watershed moment. This is a point at which we need to declare a willingness to confront, however heretical it seems, the implications of the ideological currents that shape the decisions and policies taken by the South African government.

A departure point from which to understand those currents is 1912 and the establishment of what would become the African National Congress. Moderate and conservative relative to what was to come, the party would pass through the 1920s, and 1930s, even suspending some of its liberation demands in pursuit of supporting Smuts’ efforts in the Second World War. But 1948 would herald Smuts’ defeat and, as white South Africa opted for apartheid, the ANC was hounded into the arms of the Soviets and the East Germans whose embrace would infuse the party with much hard-left ideology, particularly after the adoption in 1962 of the doctrine of National Democratic Revolution by the South African Communist Party, whose lobbying efforts would see the ANC adopt the doctrine at its conference at Morogoro in Tanzania in 1969.

The doctrine of NDR was based on Lenin’s theory of imperialism, which held that the wealth of the colonial powers arose solely from their oppression and exploitation of the colonised. From this foundation, Lenin argued that the purpose of anti-colonial revolutions must always be to dispossess the coloniser – and then embrace communism – failing which the colonised could never be free. The SACP made this theory applicable to South Africa by developing the notion of ‘colonialism of a special type’ – to mean that both the coloniser and the colonised lived together inside the same country, into which the coloniser had become permanently integrated. But despite that integration, white/capitalist prosperity remained solely the result of the oppression and exploitation of the black majority, and indeed prolonged that poverty – and that the coloniser, despite his integration, would have to be dispossessed if the colonised were ever to be free. The ANC has annually recommitted to the NDR, right up to this year.

Matters took a turn in Davos in 1991 when Nelson Mandela delivered an address in which he appeared to jettison such revolutionary dogma (the backstory is that he rewrote the paragraphs of the address prepared for him on economic policy – a great risk for him, as the ANC was yet to convene a major policy conference).

He emerged from Davos to tell his party that Afro-socialist experiments had failed and that South Africa would pursue a more pragmatic path. That, in turn, set in motion the chain of events that would isolate the hard-left in the tripartite alliance and culminate in the Growth Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, policy that sought to drive socio-economic upliftment through investment-driven growth.

Matched with the good fortune of interest rates that were cut in half, cheap surplus electricity, relatively low household debt levels, and the commodity boom, South Africa under Thabo Mbeki initially made some progress. The number of people with jobs doubled. Ten formal houses were built for every new shack being erected. The number of university students doubled. Economic growth rose to average 5% between 1994 and 2007 as government debt levels halved and a budget surplus was recorded.

But even as he was driving a socio-economic recovery he was planting the seeds of its collapse. His cruel health policies saw hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and life expectancy fall by 10 years. It was on his watch that the arms deal corruption set the precedent for the looting of the Gupta family, VBS bank, BOSASA and the many other horrors that lie waiting to be uncovered. It was during Mr Mbeki’s presidency, analysts forget, that South Africa first ran out of electricity – an issue for which he uncharacteristically apologised. His term was instrumental in seeing merit give way to race in the civil service which in turn set up the collapse of so many government functions. And it was his own unconscionable diplomacy towards Zimbabwe that enabled the collapse both of the rule of law and the economy in that country.

As Mr Mandela’s influence faded, Mr Mbeki would make two fatal blunders that later intersected to prematurely end his own political career. The first was to send the charismatic Jacob Zuma to wrest the rural Zulu nationalist vote from Inkatha, without appreciating that if Mr Zuma succeeded, he would come to inherit the mantle of Zulu nationalism and wield it as a weapon in the ANC – exactly as came to pass. The second was on HIV and AIDS. Here, Mr Mbeki’s missteps allowed the long-isolated Left within the ANC to regroup, fundraise, and develop platforms of influence around the AIDS pandemic that they later used to stunning effect to attack Mr Mbeki’s economic policy and to turn public and popular opinion against him.

Those two mistakes led to Mr Mbeki’s defeat at Polokwane in 2007.

The Left was happy to exploit Mr Zuma’s populism to eject Mr Mbeki, while Mr Zuma was happy to ride the wave of ideologically inspired anti-Mbeki media sentiment crafted by the Left. After Polokwane, the Zuma camp would go on to loot the state, while the Left clawed back, to use the revolutionary term, ‘the levers of policy influence’ denied to them since Davos in 1991. And with those levers in hand they turned the policy clock back to the socialist dogma of 1969, cancelling more than ten bilateral investment treaties, introducing restrictive immigration rules, introducing the National Health Insurance proposal, hiking minimum wage levels, publishing the revised draft mining charter, and turning the screws of ever more onerous racial edicts.

That these shifts further coincided with the global financial crisis in 2008 created the perfect governance, policy, and economic storm best highlighted in South Africa’s rate of economic growth peeling away from the global average in a pattern last seen in the late 1970s in unison with declining levels of job creation and declining popular confidence in the future – all of which we identified and began to track in great detail.

Those consequences generated the once (for ANC leaders – and many analysts) unthinkable proposition of the ANC surrendering its national majority. That fear triggered an internal power struggle between the ‘Leftists’ and the ‘Looters’, the victors at Polokwane, as both sides sought to escape responsibility for the ANC’s reversals – a struggle in which the Left ultimately prevailed by using the thesis of ‘state capture’ to discredit Mr Zuma sufficiently to bring Cyril Ramaphosa to power as ANC leader. However, this was by the narrowest of margins – 179 votes out of over 4 700 delegates. And while state capture had undoubtedly done much damage, it was only a part of the problem – and in our judgement not the leading part.

Today the ideologues whose policies were central to the disaster of the past decade are still in the ruling party and the government is pressing ahead with many of the same policies – a primary target of which remains the erosion of property rights. This is, of course, a matter of the utmost importance for those in this room, and for those you represent.

We at the IRR have tracked more than 30 separate legislative, policy, and regulatory attempts since 2008 to undermine such rights.

These started in many respects with vociferous attacks on the willing-buyer/willing-seller policy at the ANC conference in Polokwane that informed the content of the draft Expropriation Bill of 2008, which in turn informed the dropping of the Proactive Land Acquisition Strategy in 2010, the drafting of the agriculture Green Paper of 2011 which forewarned of every risk from land ceilings to EWC – all of which would be drafted into policy and legislation within the next six years – the 20% proposal in the National Development Plan of 2012, the 50/50 proposal that came hot on its heels, the Land Restitution Amendment Act of 2014 that sought to provoke hundreds of thousands of new land claims without the budget to finance them, the subsequent Property Valuation Act via which the state sought to escape that budgetary bind, the Agri Land Bill that sought to make the state custodian of all agricultural land as the Green Paper had warned – thereby escaping any budgetary bind at all – the Regulation of Land Holdings Bill that would cap farm sizes and force farmers to surrender the surplus, and now the parallel processes of the pending Expropriation Bill and proposed constitutional amendment. Yet even this chronology contains just around 10 of the 30-plus markers in the pattern; each of which built one upon the other in a systematic and ordered manner.

In parallel with the policy process ran a related and still continuing campaign of political stigmatisation directed at commercial farmers. This has deep roots in the thinking of the ANC and had been a constant background narrative. That they stole the land, were responsible for ‘original sin’, beat their staff, refused to pay fair wages, deepened rural poverty, refused to be part of building a better society, inflamed racial tensions, sabotaged land reform efforts, and thereby threatened, through these and other sins, the future stability of the entire country. It was a series of mantras repeated day in day out on scores of media and political platforms.

The purpose of propaganda is stigmatisation and the purpose of stigmatisation is to make the targeted group ‘the other’ so that the society loses its ability to empathise with it, meaning that, should the state choose to launch an assault on that group, there is very little likelihood that anyone or any other groups would come to its defence. Such assaults can then be used to set policy precedents that can be expanded to groups beyond those initially targeted.

Put more simply, you inflame public anger against commercial farmers, pass laws to seize their property, and then expand the precedent to other sectors. And you get away with it because all the rest of society falls victim to the “first they came for the farmers but I was not a farmer…..” delusion.

Farmers were targeted in the main because the government bet that their leadership was weak and naïve. The bet was that organised agriculture either did not understand or refused to understand the policy and strategy at play, and would be unable to present any real resistance. Rather – as had been the case in many other fields – the stress would be on ‘building a good relationship with the government’. It might even be possible to employ that leadership as the thin-end of a wedge that could be used to open the way for the wholesale erosion of property rights across the country.

We believe that it was a terrible mistake for farmer representatives to dismiss the policy pattern just as it was a mistake for them to write off the stigmatisation campaign as uncoordinated happenstance. And we regret that as hard as we tried we could not get them to see what was in front of their own eyes and to appreciate the ideology that underpinned it all.

The ease with which the leadership of much of organised agriculture capitulated, to rather conveying the demands of the government to farmers, than the interests of farmers to the government, stands as one of the worst examples of political appeasement and capitulation we have seen – to the extent that it took even the government by surprise. In prostituting their considerable resources and potential influence, organised agriculture has now led its members, and the country, to the brink of catastrophe.

That brink is represented best in the Expropriation Bill of 2019, the single culmination of the ideological, policy, and stigmatisation processes of the past decade. The Bill was tabled in December last year – a year after Cyril Ramaphosa came to power.

Our colleague Dr Anthea Jeffery, undoubtedly South Africa’s leading expert on these things, has written comprehensively about the Expropriation Bill. Her analysis is at the same time a warning, which all South Africans would do well to heed.

The Bill and the constitutional amendment to which government has committed itself sets out the conditions under which ‘nil’ compensation may be paid, and the procedures that must be followed in order to do this. Much attention has been paid to the list of considerations that may lead to compensation-free expropriation – such as whether the property has been abandoned, or whether it is held for ‘purely speculative purposes’. Contrary to what is commonly assumed, these conditions are not a closed list of properties that may be taken without compensation. The Bill explicitly states that EWC is ‘not limited to’ these circumstances. The latitude to engage in EWC may thus be far broader.

The Bill further empowers many organs of state, including all municipalities, to expropriate land or other property in accordance with specified procedures. These work to the advantage of the government. Dr effery writes:

A municipality wanting to expropriate residential or other land – say, to reduce spatial apartheid and build RDP houses – must begin by investigating the property and negotiating for its purchase with the owner. If no agreement is reached, the municipality may issue a notice of its intention to expropriate. In this document, it must invite representations on the proposed expropriation and the compensation offered. The municipality is obliged to consider any representations received, but it need not respond to them or give reasons for rejecting them.

Once it has taken these simple preliminary steps, the municipality may issue a notice of expropriation. Under this notice, both ownership and the right to possess the property will automatically pass to it on the dates set out in the notice.

The date for the transfer of ownership could be a mere week after the service of the notice (the only time limit in the Bill is that this date ‘must not be earlier than the date of service’ of the notice). The right to possess the property could pass to the municipality within another week.

Under the Bill, law-abiding home owners will have fewer rights than criminals illegally using their warehouse to store heroin and other drugs. Though the warehouse may be seized by the state, this can be done only after its use for criminal purposes has been proved and a court order for its confiscation has been obtained. But a home can be expropriated by a municipality by following the simple steps set out above – and without ever having to prove to a court that the expropriation is really in the public interest or that the compensation is truly just and equitable.

The implications of this are profound. Millions of South Africans could potentially be at the mercy of a state that has often shown itself to be afflicted by significant governance problems. It is now empowered to deprive people of their property without prior court orders or fair procedures or adequate compensation.

Perhaps more important is the Bill’s definition of expropriation. This is very carefully worded and requires the state to actually take possession of an asset for this to be counted as expropriation. Expropriation is not automatically regarded as having taken place if the state merely deprives someone of his or her property, or of the use or value of the property. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it should. It is essentially the reasoning of the Constitutional Court in the Agri-SA case in 2013. The Court held that although property owners had been deprived of mineral rights, the state had not become the new owner, but merely a custodian for the country as a whole. Therefore, no compensation would be payable. While the Court confined itself to the facts before it, we have long warned that a time would come when this would be turned into a general principle.

With this Bill, that time has come. Dr Jeffery remarks further:

The Expropriation Bill includes a definition of ‘expropriation’ which is clearly based on Mogoeng’s ruling. According to the Bill, ‘expropriation’ means the ‘compulsory acquisition’ of property by the state. On this basis, neither custodial takings nor regulatory expropriations will qualify as ‘expropriations’ under the Bill. Hence, ‘nil’ compensation will also be payable in these situations.

If no compensation is payable for custodial takings, this will encourage the state to take custodianship of all agricultural land, as the Preservation and Development of Agricultural Land Framework Bill of 2014 earlier envisaged. The government could also take custodianship of all other land – whether residential, mining, commercial or industrial – as the 2017 state land audit proposed and as the EFF constantly demands – and farmers/occupiers might then be invited to lease it under licence, subject to a host of empowerment requirements.

We warn that a number of policy proposals are already on the table that would align neatly with the Expropriation Bill. A corresponding Constitutional change would make a constitutional challenge that much more difficult. Both conceptually and in practice, the security of private property in South Africa is uncertain.

It is important to note that there is method behind this. Private property rights are a key target of the NDR. For many within the ANC and SACP, the endgame is a socialist and ultimately communist society. But as the SACP has warned, it would ‘do incalculable harm to the quest for socialism’ if a precipitous assault were to be made to eliminate private property. Rather, the advance would need to be made incrementally. Be under no illusions, the Expropriation Bill is a part of this drive.

Given what is at stake, the rise or fall of South Africa over the next decade will be determined as much as anything else by the passage of this single piece of legislation and the constitutional amendment that may or may not accompany it – both of which represent the final stages of a decade-long policy process, itself an expression of a much older ideological push.

We had long warned that the intention here is to see the State assume custodianship of all land in the country exactly as it did with mineral rights. In terms of agriculture it may then propose leases to existing property owners on condition that they comply with licencing conditions which will be tied to meeting escalating BEE requirements. In other words, the State uses regulatory authority to force the owner of that asset to slowly surrender economic control and then ratchets up the licencing requirements over time. It is a principle that can be expanded to other sectors of the economy. The private sector becomes beholden to the state, the entrepreneur exists at the pleasure of the state and is slowly turned into a civil servant, and the state may use that regulatory authority to punish any group or individual that opposes its objectives.

This has often been dismissed as alarmist speculation. A smoking gun, as it were, emerged in 2019 when a senior official at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform stated in Davos that the intention of the drift of government policy is a “National Land Act that is like our National Water Act 36 of 1998; our National Environment Management Act 108 of 1998; and our Mineral & Petroleum Development Resources Act 28 of 2002” and to change the Constitution to “vest land in the people of SA”.

The FW de Klerk Foundation responded to this by asking whether the government was envisaging a mass taking of all land in South Africa with the state as custodian. To which we would reply that this is indeed a very plausible end-game. It has been so for at least a decade, and has featured regularly in government and ANC thinking. Indeed, it has arguably been so for the past five decades.

Why is this happening with such speed now?

We know why it is not. There is no widespread demand to go back to the land, as our polls – and others’ - have confirmed. Nor is this about land reform, as such reform could be quite effectively executed within a framework that respects property rights and lends support to emerging farmers as we have repeatedly advocated. Even government’s own research indicates this. Nor is this about jobs or welfare or poverty or empowerment, as we have demonstrated that land reform offers very little by way of solutions to these crises – the answers lie mostly in cities and in higher levels of investment, a freer labour market, stronger property rights, better schools, and the pursuit of much higher levels of private sector-led economic growth. On the contrary, the manner in which the property rights debate has been handled is an important contributor to South Africa’s declining real per capita GDP level and stagnant job market.

The reason for the assault on property rights is this:

The ANC knows that its long-term future is now in doubt. While the ANC will do well in this pending election, securing 60% of the vote or thereabouts, less than half of people with matric or higher will vote for the party, along with less than a quarter of university graduates. Fractionally over half of young people are inclined to vote for it and just over half of its votes will come from urban areas. In this election, the ANC will test whether it has lost the younger, better-educated urban vote. And demographic trends alone, that now replicate those that were faced by Zanu-PF 15 years ago, may therefore be sufficient to suggest that the ANC will lose office at a national level by the end of the decade.

This is before you consider, what we have long established, that improvements in the material circumstances of people was central to sustaining the ANC’s strong majorities of the past 20 years. But without profound ideological modernisation the economy will not allow for further improvements and living standards will slip, accelerating the party’s demise.

And even with a 60% majority, that modernisation is far from assured as such a strong showing will strengthen the hand of the ideologues in the party as much as the reformers. The 60% thesis also ignores that pressure delivers change and that by relieving the political pressure on the ANC you remove the most likely inducement for ideological modernisation – and further ignores that nearly 70% of Cabinet ministers are first and foremost members of the NEC, many of whom are life-long ideologues and deeply implicated in state capture, and that ideological modernisation thus presupposes that the Cabinet will reform itself.

In other words, the ANC is rapidly running out of room to manoeuvre and is trapped in an ideological prison of its own making.

Unable to reform, the ANC is likely to preside over an economy that is unable to grow, and so to turn instead to racial nationalist incitement to detract attention from its failures, animate its supporters to vote, and to open the way to the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law – should it in time come to that.

What we are witnessing on questions of property rights is therefore not about public pressure, or poverty, or farmers, or historical injustices or even land at all – and it is irresponsible to rationalise what we see as something it is not. Instead we are witnessing a definitive phase in the ‘battle of ideas’ over whether South Africa will survive as a modern, free, and open society or whether, as the ANC seeks to head off defeat, it will sink our country into a socialist or communist morass of poverty, oppression, and state control.

It is a battle for the survival of the rule of law, not just in South Africa, but given the likely precedent-setting influence of South Africa – also across the whole sub-region. And what happens to farmers is simply the litmus test of what will happen to us all. Given what is at stake, in many respects all South Africans are commercial farmers today.

‘It won’t happen. They won’t do it because it will destroy the country and with it the ANC.’ We got that for many years from the mining industry on mining policy – en kyk hoe lyk ons nou! For ten years we got that from the agricultural sector, even though its own future was immediately on the line, and now that sector is likely to be the most immediate target of the Expropriation Bill. In less guarded moments, key former influencers in the government and ANC of the Mbeki-era concede that IRR warnings on corruption, race-based policy, and cadre deployment were prescient.

Another response is that, given what is at stake, how many South African, let alone foreign, investors are prepared to find out if our analysis of the implications of NDR ideology read against worsening economic and political conditions is right? To roll the dice as it were. A former colleague put it to a well-healed dinner in Johannesburg, the attendees of which purported to be entranced by the prospects of a ‘new dawn’: ‘How many of you brought your money back into the country when Ramaphosa was elected’? Data on net bond and equity flows for 2018 cement the point. The faux confidence expressed at such occasions and in business and the upper middle classes is expressed by people who collectively maintain an astonishing amount of their own money out of the country but tell those without such means that everything will be all right.

But the most compelling answer is this; that no liberation government that came to power after waging an armed struggle in Southern Africa has ever lost power: the MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. You dare not doubt that there are political leaders in this country who despite the terror, and the poverty, and the shortages of food and medicines and much of everything else besides, see in Zimbabwe only one thing – that 37 years later Zanu-PF is still in charge. They regard this as a success and think that this is a model for South Africa, too. And more than that, that in undermining property rights they have been given the means to do so.

Too harsh? Zimbabwe, South Africa as the world’s next Venezuela?

Well here is the ANC, in 2019, in a statement issued in the name of the head of Mr Ramaphosa’s office in the party responding to a perfectly reasonable observation, from five of South Africa’s most significant trading partners, that there are serious policy obstacles to investment.

The African National Congress (ANC) has noted with deep concern the interference by the Western imperialist forces like the USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland into the affairs of South Africa……the ANC condemns this dramatic holier than thou stance of these former colonisers and we would not like to relate to them on the history of master slave relations…we do not appreciate a threatening and bullying tone…they leaked their letters to the media, suggesting they had less than honourable intentions….The ANC wants to be clearly understood that we will not be fooled into swapping one attempt of state capture and corruption for another! This is how we view the interference of these five countries, as just another form of state capture. The ANC shall not allow South Africa’s constitution and sovereignty to be undermined by these latter day colonialists.

These are countries whose companies and their shareholders maintain actual investments in our country to create jobs and the like – that could be created anywhere else in the world. Their critiques were not even controversial. But with its back to wall, and the state running out of money, this is how the party responds. Add to that South Africa’s support this year for the murderous and destructive regime of Nicholas Maduro in Venezuala, who won an election only by banning the opposition, and Mr Ramaphosa’s own call for targeted sanctions to be lifted against the murderous regime in Zimbabwe.

South Africa’s appalling foreign policy positons are a very good example of the sorts of things that get rationalised and normalised by analysts and commentators to the point that they’d have us believe that the ANC did not really mean it. In the same way that Mr Ramaphosa did not mean that farmers are not being murdered in South Africa when he said that they were not being murdered.

Our foreign policy positions are sufficient to raise very important questions about whether any ideological reform at all, let alone a ‘new dawn’ is underway within the ANC and the government. And that these are South Africa’s foreign policy peers is a warning of the type of regime that South Africa’s ruling party would have no principled objection to replicating here.

Given the bankruptcy on display in the ruling party, it is all the more disappointing to see the lack of courage within the DA. It risks now taking on the critique once applied to the Palestinian leadership: “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. It has jettisoned its proud liberal heritage, replacing it with a poorly tailored, and ill-concealed, counterfeit of the racial nationalist politics of the ANC – while betting that as long as nothing better comes along, its voters will still vote for it in the hope that maybe one day, if it finds better voters, it will no longer need the support of those who vote for it today.

Whether the dangers can be countered, and later reversed, depends on one thing alone; the ability to force a new balance of power in South Africa’s battle of ideas. “Battle-of-ideas” theory, in which we are much practised, holds that the winner in any great ideological struggle will ultimately be the side that injects the greatest volume of compelling argument into the public domain. Our methods are aligned very closely to the idea that the war in Vietnam was lost in America’s living rooms and not in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Put differently, it is the ability to shape and command public opinion that determines public policy.

It is quite pointless, in our experience of many decades, to seek to convince a political movement to change its trajectory when it cannot at the same time be convinced that the balance of power in public opinion is against it. Remember that politics is about balances of power. Create enough pressure to force such a balance, and your ideological adversary may change their perception of the balance of forces in public opinion – and then pull back.

We at the IRR fight that battle by injecting vast amounts of information into the public domain in pursuit of the principles we have defended for 90 years. We have unapologetically championed the vision of a democratic and truly non-racial society, founded on the freedom of the sovereign individual. We encourage each of you assembled here to join us in the endeavour; visit our website and become a Friend of the Institute.

We closed many of our addresses in 2018 with this: “We cannot guarantee you that we will win because it is now late in the day, and more apparent than ever that those who assured you there was nothing to fear have been wrong all along. But we can guarantee you that we will fight so that we know we did all we could.”

For you, here, at the launch of this initiative, we encourage you to face the present as it is, in the hopes of finding the future that you envisage.

There is no doubt that the commercial farming community requires better and more focused representation. We encourage your leadership to represent your constituency in the fullest sense, placing the interests of family-based commercial farmers front and centre of your activism. Be prepared to face criticism, and know that this will be a marker of your effectiveness. Be willing to face your opponents with resolve – but to deal with them honourably.

Believe what the evidence reveals, and hold to principle. Many South Africans, and many South African interest groups, have been misled – or have allowed themselves to be misled – as to the realities of the circumstances in which they find themselves. They have accordingly failed to find a formula for engagement and leadership that protects their interests and advances the wellbeing of all our wonderful people.

Whether the South African Agricultural Initiative will succeed in this remains to be seen. That is your challenge.

Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations. Readers are invited to join the IRR, and to mandate it to speak on this issue, by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).


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