ANC unity cracks over land issue

The ANC remains divided about its resolution to expropriate land without compensation, despite the historic vote in Parliament this week to start the process to amend the Constitution.

The motion was brought by the Economic Freedom Fighters and supported by the ANC, but it included a caveat that expropriation would only take place if food security and economic stability were guaranteed.

These two caveats represent a compromise position by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters. They come after a fiery debate about land expropriation at the party’s December conference in Nasrec that saw delegates nearly coming to blows and the meeting being brought to the brink of collapse.

Senior ANC leaders, including Ramaphosa, have been careful to state that the ANC will only expropriate land without compensation if it does not damage the economy.

“The land debate in Nasrec was a debate around two contestations, so it was the only ideological area where there was differences between the NDZ [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma] camp and our guys,” a provincial leader who supported Ramaphosa told the Mail & Guardian.

This was confirmed by the ANC’s head of the economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, who said: “The debate was hot, the debate was rowdy and, to some extent, it did not flow in the manner that we would have liked.”

Senior ANC leaders this week said there were still sharply differing perspectives about land expropriation within the party.

“You can see the compromise in the resolution as well as the amendments. The fact of the matter is there are comrades who are concerned about how this [no compensation] will look to investors and the broader financial sector,” the provincial leader said.

“The battle lines were drawn. The debate was robust but comradely,” said an Eastern Cape branch leader.

Leaked video footage shows Eastern Cape delegates surrounding a microphone and confronting other delegates during the discussion. ANC Limpopo chairperson Stan Mathabata attempted to intervene but failed.

Western Cape ANC secretary Faiez Jacobs was among the delegates arguing that the party should first have exhausted the current legal mechanisms available in the Constitution to expropriate land.

“The moderate view is where land is unproductive or [there is] unwillingness to negotiate fairly … land must be dispossessed. The only uncomfortable issue now is that it must be done in a way that is orderly and doesn’t create a ‘them’ and ‘us’ [situation],” he said in the video clip.

Jacobs this week said that the constitutional amendment would give private land-owners an option to negotiate or face expropriation.

‘It’s gonna be used by and large as a big stick, to get people to get [into] a much more frank dialogue. The theory is that if you don’t wield the big stick and show people you are prepared to use the big stick, no one will play nice. So, whether we use the clause or use dialogue, that will depend on them,” Jacobs said.

But the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga delegates prevailed in the debate, securing the majority support in favour of no compensation backed by a consensus that South Africa faces “land hunger” and that the government’s existing policies had failed.

“In the end, the reason we could agree is because of the recognition that the decision should not destabilise the country. It should be a process,” the one ANC source added.

Godongwana said the resolution and this week’s vote in Parliament was a bold step in a new direction for the governing party.

“It is a big departure from the ANC’s policies. In the past, we’ve never contemplated to tamper with the rights in the Constitution. For me, there’s not going to be damaging impact if we protect the economy in the process,” Godongwana said.

But he said most of those with dissenting views had moved on since the conference. “It’s a process of detail rather than the principle debate. We’ve gone past the principle. We are now on the modalities of that. In other words, how do we give effect so that it doesn’t impact negatively?”

Godongwana said the biggest fight would now be about who should benefit and whether land owned by the state should be redistributed.

He was less concerned about threats to campaign for disinvestment from organisations such as AfriForum, which said it would dissuade investors from doing business with South Africa. “The ANC resolution says without impacting negatively on other sectors of the economy … It means in its implementation it is not going to be disruptive,” he said.

“All of this hullabaloo, we actually talk to these embassies and investors more than they do. They [investors] will just engage us [the government], not them [AfriForum].”

Meanwhile, this week, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Willies Mchunu pledged his support for maintaining King Goodwill Zwelithini’s control over three million hectares of tribal land held by the board of the Ingonyama Trust.

At the December conference, the ANC resolved to dissolve the board, although the party has yet to make its final resolutions public.

It also expressed its desire that the land under the trust — set up on the eve of the 1994 elections to placate Zwelithini and the Inkatha Freedom Party — be closed down and the land given directly to rural communities.

But ANC secretary general Ace Magashule said this week his party had made no decision on the matter.

Mchunu this week rejected recommendations made last year by Parliament’s high-level panel, headed by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, that the trust be scrapped and the land it controls on the king’s behalf be given to rural communities. The trust has been criticised by the auditor general for a lack of financial transparency.

“We wish to make it clear that we will never support any recommendation aimed at undermining the role of our traditional leaders on land issues, including the Ingonyama Trust,” Mchunu said.

The monarch had the day before called on Zulus to donate funds for a legal challenge to the panel’s recommendations. Traditional leaders have also threatened havoc if the land is removed from the trust, which earns about R80‑million a year in leases.

Late last year, the Ingonyama Trust Board went on a drive to convince residents to convert their permission-to-occupy certificates to leases, sparking a threat of court action from several communities and legal nonprofits.

On Thursday, Parliament hit out sharply at the trust’s board for mobilising traditional leaders against the panel that had recommended its dissolution, saying the move was “unnecessary” and “premature”.

Parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo said the “threats against Parliament for doing its work” by the trust were “of concern”.

The panel is in the process of reporting back to Parliament on its recommendations, after which Parliament will hold a national consultative process before considering passing any legislation.

Parliament’s land affairs portfolio committee will meet the trust and panel members on Wednesday.

Ingonyama Trust chairperson Jerome Ngwenya did not respond to calls from the Mail & Guardian.

Co-operative Governance Minister Zweli Mkhize was not available to comment at the time of going to print.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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