I’m not going for cheap votes over land, says Lekota

Straight talk: Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota is willing to risk being unpopular for his views on land expropriation. (David Harrison)

Straight talk: Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota is willing to risk being unpopular for his views on land expropriation. (David Harrison)

Congress of the People (Cope) leader Mosiuoa Lekota says plans to pursue the expropriation of land without compensation will plunge South Africa into conflict and undo the nation-building successes achieved since the fall of apartheid.

He says he couldn’t care less whether his views on land make him unpopular among black voters. Lekota faced a barrage of criticism from fellow parliamentarians and on social media when he refused to vote in support of the February  27 motion in Parliament by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to review section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with property rights and expropriation.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian this week, Lekota warned that the ANC’s approach on expropriation without compensation would not be sustainable.

“They [ANC leaders] want to go and take other people’s property. People who are working the land, people who have developed and built homes and buildings and all that. That is going to destabilise the country and, when we destabilise this country, investors are going to be driven away; they’re not going to come to South Africa.

“Since 1912, when the ANC was formed, our people have always pushed for peace and stability because they believed that we could solve the problems of the country more efficiently in a stable atmosphere,” said Lekota.

KwaZulu-Natal’s house of traditional leaders has warned of the likelihood of bloodshed if the government removes land from its control.

Lekota believes the country is not ready for a large-scale handover of agricultural land and wants people to be trained before being given the responsibility of operating farms.

“Don’t give land to people who don’t know how to use it; give it to people who you have prepared,” he said. “We should be taking young people to agricultural schools … all these agricultural schools that [former education minister] Kader Asmal closed, they must be opened. Build commercial farmers of distinction.”

On February 19, Lekota faced heavy criticism in Parliament during the debate on the State of the Nation address when he questioned how the ANC planned to expropriate land without compensation when, according to the Freedom Charter, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

He has also claimed that land was not stolen from black people but was bought by European settlers through a process of negotiations. This unpopular view has seen Lekota being labelled a sellout, with the EFF questioning how he had been imprisoned on Robben Island if he believed there was no fault in how land was taken.

“I’m so sorry for little [Julius] Malema. He called me some strange names and all of that but I don’t worry about him. He already went to England [in 2015] and told the English that Mandela sold out. So what am I? I am nothing if he can say Mandela sold out,” Lekota said.

The discussion on land has already become something of an electoral ticket to score points with voters ahead of next year’s national polls.

Cope has positioned itself in stark opposition to the dominant narrative at a time when it finds itself on a downward electoral slope since its formation in 2008.

In 2009, the party secured 7.4% support nationally, becoming the third-largest party. But by the 2014 elections, Cope’s support had fallen to 0.67%. The EFF replaced it as third-largest political party and the Inkatha Freedom Party and the National Freedom Party have also overtaken it.

But Lekota is not fazed by the prospect of more electoral losses in 2019 because of Cope’s position on expropriation. “I am not going to lie to the people of South Africa just because I want votes. I am not going to go for cheap votes. I’m telling the people the truth — that the future is guaranteed as a successful one if we follow this line [on land redistribution] that president Mandela and other leaders of our people put together in this Constitution.”

Lekota said his party’s policy on land is premised on what stands in the Constitution at the moment — that land should be expropriated for a public purpose or in the public interest with compensation.

He said Cope was willing to partner with anyone who opposed plans to expropriate land without compensation, including the Freedom Front Plus.

A former ANC leader, Lekota expressed dismay at what he said was a “new theory” on land in the ruling party that he believed showed its rejection of the Freedom Charter, similar to that of the Pan Africanist Congress when it broke away from the ANC in 1959.

“So now, this is not the ANC; this is the PAC calling itself by the name ANC. You can tell them I said that and I’ll say it any time of the day.”

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