OPINION | Populist and king run land debate, seriously?
When I read headlines suggesting Julius Malema is defending King Goodwill Zwelithini’s claim to almost 30% of KwaZulu-Natal, I was impressed. At last, I thought, Malema has delivered on a promise and secured economic freedom for at least one South African other than himself.
Still, it seemed confusing. Why, I wondered, was a Marxist (who wants nobody to own land) backing an unelected feudal overlord (who wants to own a lot of land), whose claim to said land was an agreement cooked up by the 1990s ANC and the apartheid state, or, as Malema knows them, a band of sell-outs and the scumbags they sold out to?
But then I read past the headlines and discovered Malema is not defending the king’s claims. He is defending the king’s right to make those claims. The way a foxhunter defends the right of the fox to have a head-start.According to Malema, Zwelithini’s threats to secede from SA or mobilise legions to defend his land were simply a “contribution”, and certainly nothing like the protests of “boers who are calling for a separate republic”.
No, those guys are being incredibly provocative and dangerous by saying more or less the same thing as Zwelithini. They’re not contributing anything, other than votes for the EFF.
At least that’s this week’s version of reality on Planet Julius. Because almost four months ago (exactly three months and 29 days further back than most South Africans can remember) Malema was warning Zwelithini not to threaten war or secession.
Back then it wasn't a “contribution”: it was intimidation. And he wasn’t going to back down. “I don’t fear anyone, no one,” he said. “I only fear God.” Well, God, a functional Sars and the electorate – once it actually reads the EFF’s plan for running the country.
All of that, however, sounded like high-class statecraft compared to a statement by the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA.
For spokes-royal, Nkosi Nhlakanipho Maphumulo, the Zulu king’s land claim is simply a way of looking out for the little guy. “The majority of people living on that land don't have a problem,” he told EWN.“I'm talking about the majority. You cannot tell me about a small minority of people who want to impose their way on us. That cannot happen. We live in a democracy here.”
If only Louis XVI of France had managed to summon such aristocratic chutzpah. “Say what, mes amis? You want to chop off my head? But why? The majority of the people living on that land don’t have a problem! What’s that you say? How can I make such a claim without having asked them? Geez, guys, what part of ‘king’ don’t you understand?”
There’s a lot I don’t understand about the so-called debate around land. I have many questions. For example: given that banks own most of the land and property in SA, isn’t full, EFF-style “expropriation without compensation” just a synonym for “taking a sledgehammer to the local banking system”?
And, as much as I’ve wanted to take a sledgehammer to my bank when it tells me, for half an hour, that my call is important, do we know what the plan is for the day after that sledgehammer is swung?
I mean, when the banks shut and the entire population storms them to try to withdraw savings that have now evaporated (because the stuff that comes out of the ATMs is other people’s debt), what are the plans for crowd control?
Can we rely on the police or SANDF, given that their services will have been paid for with IOUs? Or should some sort of deal be struck with King Goodwill to provide a legion or two in return for keeping a few million acres? Seriously, what’s the plan?
Still, away from facetious speculation and political smoke there are some obvious truths about the land issue. The state is sitting on vast tracts of the stuff, which it uses as a carrot for landless voters and a stick for private landowners. Title deeds give people access to credit and capital. Land must be redistributed, intelligently, carefully and quickly.
But most importantly, the process of restoring justice is too fragile and too essential to be left to populists and royalty. The former have no marketable skills beyond their innate ability to play people’s emotions for personal gain.
The latter need to re-read the chapter called “Monarchy in the 21st Century”, which explains that, in return for millions and millions of our tax rands, they need to smile and nod and hush.
So let’s have no more “contributions” from opportunists and feudal landlords. Let’s instead open up space for people who can actually contribute.
Let’s hear from experts – economists, farmers, academics – so that instead of veiled threats and cheap “contributions”, we can find what all of us are looking for: an answer...