/ 15 March 2018

Food sovereignty the viable alternative to ANC, EFF land solutions

The demand for housing in urban areas is putting places such as the Philippi horticultural area
The demand for housing in urban areas is putting places such as the Philippi horticultural area

Although Jacob Zuma has fallen, South Africa has not escaped the miasma of a “Zumafied Parliament”. His reign represented the degeneration of political leadership and the serious weakening of democracy. The ANC’s and the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF’s) support for a motion to amend the Constitution to advance land expropriation without compensation reflects the absence of deep and serious political debate in our democracy.

One would have expected that, post-Zuma, the ANC would reach for a modicum of engaged deliberation on such a fundamental question, which has to be addressed in a manner that takes the country forward.

Moreover, the ANC was not blindsided by the EFF’s motion, which was merely confirming its December conference position (and the ANC Youth League’s own documents that predate the EFF’s formation).

Both the ANC’s and the EFF’s authoritarian populist positions share one thing in common. For the EFF and the ANC, land grabs are about revenge. To address the wrongs of colonial and racist dispossession, white farmers must be punished. Some would argue further that Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation politics have failed.

Yet, as academic and author Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni points out, the paradigm of war in modern Western society, based on the logic of racial division and coloniality, was rejected by Mandela and instead there was a deep decolonial impulse in his ethical approach to reconciliation through his “paradigm of peace”.

Like all political practices, it was grounded in immanent possibility. There were paths taken and not taken. It also means that, as a political resource, Mandela’s reconciliatory practice can be put to work to achieve more radical outcomes.

The new anti-white racism of the EFF is shared by the ANC. In this instance, the ANC is clearly far from Mandela but even further away from the principle of nonracialism, including radical nonracialism that advocates fundamental transformation. What the ANC stands for at the level of principle is increasingly unclear. Post-Zuma the ANC’s trust deficit with South Africa is still widening.

To be a vengeful racist addressing the land grievance comes with its dangers. Such an approach presumes that all white farmers (about 35 000) are supremacists and must be treated as such. A sharp, racialised antagonism is created with white farmers and more generally white South Africa. A volatile racial fault line is constructed in our discourse, which can take on a life of its own in everyday politics.

The grammar of race war, militant posturing, racial innuendo and symbolic violence sets the stage for confrontation. Julius Malema and the EFF, of course, are not the only ones with a capacity for racial violence. White South Africa, particularly conservative Afrikaners, are armed and therefore the potential for deadly political conflagration is a possibility. A race war in South Africa, over the land, simply means we all lose.

At the same time, there are differences between the EFF’s and the ANC’s positions. The EFF views the state as a custodian of all land, providing use rights to individuals and corporations for a maximum of 25 years, subject to renewal. Although the language of “small-scale” farming is evoked, the EFF has not given it much thought. It is very likely big farmers would emerge in their revolving-door framework to access land use. The state is also meant to support small-scale farmers with procurement opportunities and protections. Ultimately the EFF views small-scale commercial agriculture as a viable prospect in the context of export to the wider African market.

Though the EFF proposal is shot through with inconsistencies, it is primarily about state-supported capitalist agriculture that could compete and displace peasant agriculture in the wider African context. This is a far cry from pan-African solidarity with Africa’s peasantry.

There will be winners and losers in the EFF’s proposal. For the ANC, agrarian transformation is primarily about supporting small-scale farmers to become viable commercial enterprises in the “first economy” and for export markets. Agrihubs, extension services and financing is geared towards this pathway. In this policy framework there have been and will continue to be winners and losers.

Yet does one have to be a revengeful racist to address historical injustices such as land dispossession? Radical nonracialism, which is not anti-white but anti-white supremacy, is another principled political position from which to engage the race, class, gender and ecological dynamics of South Africa’s unjust food system. This principle informs the campaigning platform of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (SAFSC), which is made up of organisations from the agrarian sector, climate justice, food justice and solidarity economy movements.

Formed out of a conference on the right to food in late 2014 and launched in 2015, the campaign has consistently translated and given substance to a South African approach to food sovereignty. Through its hunger tribunal, drought speak-outs, bread marches, food sovereignty festivals, water sovereignty dialogues and activist schools it has evolved an alternative perspective on land and agricultural transformation. This is encapsulated in a People’s Food Sovereignty Act, adopted at a People’s Parliament in 2016, shared with several government ministries last year and recently handed over to a representative of Parliament at a people’s dialogue in Cape Town.

The People’s Food Sovereignty Act is an example of prefigurative practice. It provides a compass to build food sovereignty pathways from below through households, villages, towns and cities. It envisages a citizen-driven process but supported by the state, to build a democratic, just and sustainable food system.

The Act is also an example of a democratic systemic reform, which sets out fundamental differences with the ANC and EFF’s approach to land reform.

First, agricultural land must be treated as having a social and ecological function. This means chemical, industrial and monoindustrial farming is not the way forward for agriculture. Instead, agroecological practices need to be prioritised to produce in harmony with ecosystems, water constraints and more indigenised diets.

Second, small-scale farmers need to be given conditional-use rights of a maximum of two hectares of land as part of the commons but subject to the imperatives of democratic planning. This prevents the over-concentration of land and allows for more than 30-million small-scale farmers to be created in South Africa. The land for this commons will come from the state, religious organisations, communal tenure systems, the private sector and from deconcentrating commercial farms.

Third, the deconcentration of commercial farms must be handled in accordance with the Constitution, as part of a transition, involving a land audit and with a commitment to fair compensation to historically white farmers. A national food sovereignty fund is envisaged, which will be the mechanism to secure funds from South African capital, not the individual taxpayer, to buy out white commercial farmers over a 20-year period and provide capital to small-scale farmers. Finance, industries, retailers, mining companies and every fraction of (white) capital must contribute to this fund, given the benefits they accrued under apartheid and in the post-apartheid context. This is the gesture of nation-building required to advance genuine reconciliation.

[In 1999, about 65 000 hectares in the Northern Cape was transferred to the San. Their eviction from the Kalahari park in 1931 led to their diaspora into South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. (Paul Botes)]

Fourth, the state is envisaged as playing an enabling role to ensure food sovereignty is realised as a democratic systemic reform driven from below. This includes a procurement role, a pedagogical role, a regulatory role against dominant commercial food interests, a custodial role of the land commons together with a national food sovereignty council and local communal councils. It is also envisaged the state will support a democratic planning mechanism to plan the water, land, seed, production and consumption issues around a food-sovereign system. This is crucial in a climate-driven world.

As opposed to the ANC and the EFF, the food sovereignty proposition envisages an alternative food system controlled by small-scale farmers and consumers but deeply embedded in society. A food-sovereign system will enable South Africa to confront the pathologies of a corporate-controlled food system (such as hunger, unhealthy food choices and globalised diets) while also enduring climate shocks.

The winners in advancing food sovereignty are all of South Africa, thus affirming the radical and transformative politics that are possible with the Mandela practice of reconciliation and in a paradigm of peace.

Dr Vishwas Satgar is a University of the Witwatersrand academic and an activist in the SAFSC. The People’s Food Sovereignty Act is available at safsc.org.za