Can the ANC put the land grab genie back in the bottle?

‘It is no exaggeration to say that on President Ramaphosa’s shoulders rests the future of the African continent.’ Lord David Owen, former UK Labour MP and Cabinet Minister, The Daily Maverick.

Maybe it was the sudden upturn of illegal land occupations. Or the continued revelations of the torture and violence perpetrated against farmers. Or the shock of the international press. Or meeting new Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and hearing about his plans to bring back white farmers to his country.

I suspect that it might have been seeing the DA, along with many of its newfound black allies, stand up to the nakedly racist and fascist rhetoric of Julius Malema, that maybe jolted Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership back to reality.

You cannot simply seize land in a fragile democracy and expect stability and order to remain.

And so at the National Land Forum recently, leading politicians like the faux-Communist poet-bureaucrat, Jeremy Cronin, and the generally trustworthy Gwede Mantashe, have seemingly come to the realisation that the Constitution already mandates the government and empowers legally the restitution of land, and that there is absolutely no need to demonise productive white farmers or entertain the blatantly Marxist rants of Malema.

As most conservative commentators have been saying all along – by all means, the government should look to capitalise the poor by re-allocating abandoned urban and rural spaces, giving tenant farmers title deeds, and putting an end to land speculation at the expense of settling and training new farmers.

Tellingly, Cronin and others admitted the chief problem may simply be the government itself. They barely know how much land they own themselves, and, as Rebecca Davis from the Daily Maverick reported, ANC MP Mathole Motshekga noted that if government hadn’t spent so much money on salary and petrol allowances for the officials tasked with overseeing land reform, results would be far more impressive by now.

The forum called for white landowners to donate land. I personally know of many white farmers who do incredible things for their communities – they build schools, churches, clinics, and, from time to time, give shares to their workers.

If the government made the agricultural department as organised as Sars once was, with a reputation for administrative reliability and integrity, I can almost guarantee that most white farmers would be more than willing to come to the party.

It is time for Ramaphosa to show real statesmanship. Most people in this country are not fixated on issues of race and revenge. (See the latest IRR survey on this very issue)

Most simply want to know they have a shot at giving their children a good life. If we come together and talk about our issues and look for solutions, instead of allowing the likes of Malema and the radical left to set the parameters of the debate, some good can still be done.

I think Ramaphosa knows he is walking with history so to speak. He wants to be the next Mandela – not the ‘freedom fighter’ or the ‘great reconciler’ – but the ‘nation builder’. He has thus far played a dangerous game – putting up with old Premier League thugs in his inner circle and indulging the EFF and their discredited theories inspired by the failed states of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

But it’s time now to make his move. Lock up the criminals. Bring business, labour, and the poor together in a new social compact, streamline government, and restore hope that we need not go the way of our neighbours to the north.

I am still very sceptical – but this past week was a welcome change for the better.