In my State of the Nation reply speech yesterday, I drew attention to the plight of coloured farmer Ivan Cloete who has been leasing and successfully farming a state-owned farm in the Darling area of the Western Cape for the past couple of years.
This is not an isolated incident. Many productive black farmers in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga are being similarly intimidated with one-week notices to vacate their farms that they lease from the state.
Officials are doing so under the cover of Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza’s scheme to release 700 000 hectares of state land for land redistribution purposes, though many of these farms are not even listed under this scheme.
This is despite Deputy President Mabuza’s assurances in Parliament on 22 October 2020 that “…those people that are currently occupying those farms (identified for redistribution), I don’t think there is any intention to forcefully remove people at this point in time”.
Yet when the DA raised Mr Cloete’s case with Deputy Agriculture Minister Mcebisi Skwatsha in Parliament, he ignored the question, showing neither interest nor empathy. This constitutes tacit approval for land grabs.
The DA is fighting for Mr Cloete and other productive farmers in his predicament. Not just for secure lease rights, but for full ownership.
We did this successfully for Limpopo farmer David Rakgase, who now has title to his farm after a court victory in September 2020, a precedent-setting case fought by the DA together with Mr Rakgase.
Mr Rakgase is appearing on the DA’s Inside Track today in conversation with DA spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube and others, to talk about how South Africa can achieve just and meaningful land reform.
It is crucial that we South Africans recognise the difference between meaningful land reform and populist rhetoric.
The former can only be achieved through secure property rights and will lead to increased agricultural output. The latter is based on expropriation without compensation and will lead to lawlessness and disinvestment.
So, one of the few positives of President Ramaphosa’s SONA last week is South Africa’s reaction to it. Even his most ardent admirers are seeing through the spin, fantasy and doublespeak.
This is significant, because too many South Africans have been lulled into a false sense of hope by Ramaphosa’s veneer of credibility as “the great reformer”.
Don’t get me wrong. I too have hope for South Africa.
But that hope lies in the ability of South African voters to hold the ANC accountable at the ballot box, not in Ramaphosa’s ability to reform his party or South Africa through “playing the long game”.
Ramaphosa’s supporters are starting to find his “long game” as effective as Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” back in the early 2000s, when then President Robert Mugabe was overseeing the destruction of Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and food supply through land expropriation without compensation.
Mugabe portrayed his policy of land grabs as a key mechanism to redress the wrongs of Zimbabwe’s colonialist past and solve the economic crisis into which his own party, Zanu-PF, had plunged the country.
We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensures that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.
This line from Ramaphosa’s SONA2021 reveals that Ramaphosa’s true “long game” is to follow Mugabe’s socialist, populist agenda on land reform.
What makes him far more dangerous than Mugabe or Zuma is that he hides it so well beneath a cloak of first-world sophistication and knack for speech-making.
Don’t get me wrong. South Africa’s unjust past must be redressed, black land ownership must increase massively, food security must improve, and the economic crisis must be solved.
But these can only be solved in a context of secure property rights such as those now enjoyed by Mr Rakgase. They are an essential foundation stone of liberal democracy and a functional, growing economy. Investment will evaporate without them.
We now know exactly how this strategy played out in Zimbabwe, where widespread hunger followed the lawlessness and disinvestment that are the inevitable result of expropriation without compensation.
So let us not be like the proverbial frogs in boiling water, where the temperature is raised so slowly that we never jump out.
As Maya Angelou famously warned: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”.
The deadline for submissions on the ANC’s Expropriation Bill has been extended to 28 February 2021.
In the local government election later this year a vote for the DA will be a vote for secure property rights for productive farmers such as Ivan Cloete.
These are crucial opportunities for all South Africans “to jump out the water” before Ramaphosa raises the temperature still higher.