Reform the farmer

On the face of it, the chanting of “Kill the Boer! Kill the farmer!” at Peter Mokaba’s funeral last weekend — and its indulgence by African National Congress leaders — ran directly counter to the government’s professed reconciliation policy. That it coincided with a horrific farm murder in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands did not help. But it is important to place the event in context.

The chant is not a feature of run-of-the-mill ANC rallies, and with Mokaba gone, is not likely to be heard at other mass gatherings. Insensitive as it was, its use on this particular occasion should not be seen as signalling an upsurge in murderous anti-white sentiment or subliminal hatred of whites among ANC leaders. It was a funerary ritual, which recalled the dead man through what had (alas) become his signature. In the same way, it has long been customary to sing at the funeral of ANC guerrillas: “We the children of Umkhonto are determined to kill these Boers.”

President Thabo Mbeki’s administration can be accused of sending out the wrong messages through its handling of the crisis in Zimbabwe. But on one issue it has been absolutely firm — it has not in any way encouraged violence against South Africa’s minorities or the unlawful dispossession of their property. There is no evidence to support far-right claims of a coordinated campaign to drive white farmers off the land, covertly supported by the ruling party. South Africa is not Zimbabwe and whites should acknowledge this.

It is also not true, as Democratic Alliance leader Tony Leon declares, that the government has done nothing about farm murders. Its record on this front is a reasonable one. It has set in place a rural safety programme, and deployed resources out of keeping with the small number of people at risk. The police boast a high rate of success in cracking such crimes.

The agricultural lobby rightly argues that farm murders are a distinct phenomenon requiring special attention from the state — more farmers are murdered relative to the size of their community than any other social group. Because they affect whites, and more specifically Afrikaners, they have an obvious bearing on South Africa’s macro-stability.

But farmers, too, must recognise their role in fighting this peculiarly South African scourge. Although few farmworkers attack their employers, repressive labour relations may encourage collaboration, and the sharing of intelligence, between workers and criminals. Farmers create bad blood with neighbouring black communities by, for example, refusing them access to ancestral grave sites. Racial suspicion prevents some farmers from drawing their workers into mutual protection systems, and from allowing them to keep arms.

Most importantly, farmers must come to see that land reform is in their longer-term interests. As argued in this edition, misguided attempts to limit the state’s right to expropriate land for reform can only encourage land invasions and rural conflict.

Defective defection law

Everyone agrees public representatives should not be trapped forever in political parties that are uncongenial to them and that the anti- defection law gives party bosses too much power. But the floor- crossing legislation that takes effect this Friday is far from ideal.

The law is not the product of careful and impartial deliberation, as a major change of this kind should be. It is the result of a self-serving political trade-off between the African National Congress and the New National Party, which will further weaken an already feeble and fragmented opposition. In fairness, the Democratic Alliance invited disaster through its clumsy and autocratic handling of the NNP last year.

Most defectors will not be acting from philosophical or moral principle, nor from thoughts of what South Africa’s body politic needs, but from naked career-mindedness and ambition. Their concern, as the Institute for Democracy in South Africa has noted, will be to ensure that they join parties that can rule alone or in coalition with another.

The strongest indictment of the measure is that it is a horse-before-the-cart arrangement, disconnected from wider reform of South Africa’s electoral system. An electoral commission under Van Zyl Slabbert has belatedly been appointed to enquire into this issue, but will not report for many months.

With the floor-crossing law, elected lawmakers will be further removed from the voting public. They were not chosen in the first place on their individual performance by constituencies, but from party lists. Now they will be free to break ties even with the parties that originally nominated them as public representatives. However one slices it, this is a serious miscarriage of representative democracy.

The proportional representation system was enshrined in the Constitution for good reason — it ensures that racial minorities are guaranteed a public voice. Its obvious weakness is that it drives a wedge between representatives and the electorate, allowing parties and their leaders to elevate, and keep in power, members that voters might reject. It undermines the principle of direct accountability to the people.

Only once a constituency element is introduced into our electoral system will the freedom to cross the floor make sense. Then the people who put MPs, provincial legislature members and councillors into power can decide whether defections are justified.

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