‘ANC can’t play to the gallery on land issue’ — Mantashe

Mantashe confirmed that the party would call a special NEC meeting to discuss the land issue before the policy conference. (David Harrison, M&G)

Mantashe confirmed that the party would call a special NEC meeting to discuss the land issue before the policy conference. (David Harrison, M&G)

The issue of expropriating land without compensation is proving divisive in the top echelons of the ANC, with secretary general Gwede Mantashe warning against “emotional” moves that could set the country alight.

The land issue has divided senior ANC members, with some, including President Jacob Zuma, calling for the Constitution to be amended to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The land debate is seen as a proxy leadership battle ahead of the party’s elective conference in December, yet its policy discussion documents, released last week, are silent on land expropriation without compensation.

The Mail & Guardian has reliably learned that, on Monday, several members of the ANC’s national working committee supported calls for land expropriation without compensation, in line with the party’s “radical economic transformation” agenda.

Other senior leaders attending the meeting argued there was no need to amend the Constitution because section 25 already provided for this.

The debates became so heated that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had to intervene.

He suggested convening a special national executive committee (NEC) meeting, according to ANC insiders.

Mantashe confirmed that the party would call a special NEC meeting to discuss the land issue before the policy conference.

He said that although the NEC did not make policy decisions, it was important for the structure to formulate a position on the matter.

“Land is not just economics. It’s a sensitive issue. We want to ensure there is better management of it. It’s a complex issue. If you play to the gallery, you will set the country on fire. We need to manage it better,” said Mantashe.

Like other senior ANC leaders, Mantashe said he did not see the need to amend the Constitution, saying it already provided for expropriation without compensation for specific purposes.

“You can change the Constitution if you know what you want to achieve. We have not used the provisions that are there now sufficiently. Former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke said repeatedly that we have not sat in court and dealt with the question of ... expropriation,” he said.

He said it was important not to undervalue the importance of agriculture and producing food when debating the land issue, as Zimbabwe did in the early years of its land distribution programme.

“Zim has done a good land redistribution, but what we should learn from that is that de-emphasising food production and dealing with the emotional aspect translates into starvation,” said Mantashe.

He said it was sad that the African continent possessed 22% of the world’s arable land, but was producing only 10% of its food. Simultaneously, it was the most threatened continent, with millions of people going to bed hungry.

“That’s a product of this mentality of African leaders, who believe that land is not for food production. If you don’t address those things — food, shelter and clothing — then you are actually pathetic in the most basic areas,” he said.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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