President Jacob Zuma made some new land reform proposals during his address to the congress of the African Farmers' Association of South Africa last week.
No one knows where these proposals came from but the idea is that "each district establishes a district land reform committee where all stakeholders are involved to be responsible for identifying 20% of the commercial agricultural land in the district and giving commercial farmers the option of assisting its transfer to black farmers".
The president is reported to have said that "in this way, land can be found without distorting markets". The gist is that the state will buy land from its owners at 50% of market value. The landowner's shortfall will be made up by cash or in-kind contributions from commercial farmers who volunteer to participate.
This sounds so profound from a president who, since he took office as ANC president in 2007, has not come up with a coherent and substantial policy proposal on the developmental crises of poverty, unemployment and socioeconomic inequalities.
He has never proposed anything coherent because, more often than not, he misdiagnoses the real causes of South Africa's challenges.
He feebly conceptualised the present situation as a failure of the "first transition", arguing that the ANC needed a "second transition" without providing a clear vision of it. The ANC rejected this and reminded him that the first transition – towards Freedom Charter objectives – had not been completed.
Zuma's new land reform proposal is evidently not based on what the ANC said at Polokwane in 2007 or at the Midrand policy conference this year. He is making a significant detour from the Polokwane resolution that noted that "more than 80% of agricultural land remains in the hands of fewer than 50 000 white farmers and agribusinesses. The willing seller, willing buyer approach to land acquisition has constrained the pace and efficacy of land reform. It is clear from our experience that the market is unable to alter the patterns of land ownership effectively in favour of an equitable and efficient distribution of land."
The 2012 national policy conference's commission on land reform said: "Reaffirming the essence of the observations of the ANC 52nd national conference, the policy conference commission on land reform affirmed the following as pillars of consideration under willing buyer, willing seller: replace willing buyer, willing seller with the 'just and equitable' principle in the Constitution immediately where the state is acquiring land for land reform purposes; expropriation without compensation on land acquired through unlawful means or used for illegal purposes, having due regard to section 25 of the Constitution; keep nationalisation as an option; and expedite the promulgation of the new Expropriation Act."
The president's new proposal diverges radically from what the policy conference said.
He reaffirmed the willing buyer, willing seller model and added market value as the determinant of the price of the land. The market value principle is not in the Constitution. The conference resolution on a land management commission and an office of a valuer general was meant to address this, but Zuma seems unaware of the ANC conference's recommendations.
This departure from key policy proposals is a real act of ill-discipline and directionlessness of the leadership. Why would the ANC spend lots of money to develop perspectives and convene its members in a rigorous process of participative democracy and policymaking when all that can be undermined by the way a leader feels on a certain day? This cannot be correct.
Land is the only practical, immediate way to address massive inequalities and the poverty and unemployment crises confronting society.
But there is a tendency to engage in narrow, elite policymaking that ignores the people on the ground. Trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency responsible for national planning and also a member of the ANC national executive committee, was recently quoted as saying the ANC way of policymaking did not work: "Involving ANC branch members in detailed decision-making assumed that they had the information and knowledge they needed for participation …
"For example, we will have people in government making proposals on nuclear energy and ordinary branch members [having] no idea what they are talking about."
Why does Manuel trust ANC members to vote him, Zuma and others into office if he cannot trust them with policy direction? The branches have given a broad, decisive framework of what is to be done and the government should be guided by this, as expressed at the policy conference.
If the ANC is to remain embedded in the people and guided by what they say, it should heed Amilcar Cabral: "We must practice revolutionary democracy in every aspect of our party life … Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories."
Anything that dishonours this clarion call will lead to the ANC's demise.
Floyd Shivambu is a member of the economic freedom fighters campaign