By Dumisani Tembe

It is an ideological bankruptcy to believe that land restoration and redistribution can be done through liberal democracy institutions, processes, and systems. The failure by the ruling African National Congress to secure a two thirds majority to effect changes to the section 25 of the constitution to enable “Land expropriation without compensation” manifests what South Africa’s liberal democracy is all about: a conservative system to sustain the apartheid’s socio-economic patterns. 

It also manifests something else: the governing ANC’s inability to play the system in favour of the masses it ought to represent. The ANC has chosen either consciously or subconsciously, to rule by the liberal book, rather than as a liberation movement. Even when the ANC had secured an electoral two thirds majority from the 2004 elections, it made no use of this political leverage. It may also be the case that it fears tackling the establishment head on.

Increasingly, the ANC itself is becoming a conservative rather than a progressive government. That is, it is more concerned with the peace, order, and stability rather than confronting the dominant classes in society with a redistribution agenda. 

Liberal democracy is not designed to enable the realization of liberation goals such as land restoration and redistribution. Liberal democracy institutions, systems and processes are designed to sustain the liberal controlled free market order. In the South African context, liberal democracy exists to legitimize the apartheid socio-economic patterns in the post ’94 period. In fact, what is christened as liberalism in South Africa is a conservative agenda to protect the apartheid patterns. 

Therefore, it is unthinkable that land restoration and redistribution can be done through the very same parliament that is actually established to keep the land in the hands of the white minority beneficiaries. South Africa’s liberal institutions such as the National Assembly, are actually designed to restrain the liberation agenda. 

It is actually designed to dilute the powers of the liberation movements in their supposedly pursuit of  a better life for the majority. Hence, placing the issue of “expropriation of land without compensation” to a vote, is subjecting the crucial land redistribution to a matter of chance – a numbers game!

In essence, South Africa’s liberation movements have lost the struggle for land. They have abdicated the liberation agenda. From their Codesa capitulation, they have failed to redetermine how they would sustain the struggle within a constitution and governance system designed to sustain apartheid post ’94. 

There are several reasons liberation movements failed  to sustain the struggle against apartheid post ’94: Moving into apartheid government structures and absorbed into its value system through its systems and processes; the absorption of senior and influential leaders into the white corporate South Africa; and a corporate sector driven black middle-class agenda that over time has become a buffer between the masses and the dominant white corporate class. 

This collective middle class is now part of the system. Rather than changing the system to advance the liberation goals, they in turn have been changed by the system to advance its goals. Hence, most policies, programmes and the broader agenda of government is located within the liberal framework. There does not seem to be a desire to think, act, and advance outside the liberal box. Even those who, within the ANC government push the rhetoric of change, they do so with the priority of not upsetting the current economic patterns. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa frequently states that the land programme must be done in a way that does not negatively affect food production and economic growth. Thus, creating an impression that land restoration, and redistribution to black people presents a high risk to food production and economic growth. 

Whilst in fact, a progressive liberation agenda would ensure heightened food production, and economic growth by expanding access to land. But then, in order for the system to sustain itself, it has to drive this agenda that black ownership of land is a risk, and thus, more is done to sustain the status quo. The irony of it all, is that this conservative agenda, is now publicly driven by a black government with a liberation mandate. 

Given that the ANC has succumbed to the liberal prescripts of running the country, perhaps it was not in its interest to have the “expropriation of land without compensation” passed by the National Assembly. Had it been passed; it would have been a serious burden on the ANC government. It would have gone against the system that the ANC has so openly embraced either for lack of liberation imagination, or the fear to confront the system. But now, the ANC  has a perfect excuse in its failure to redistribute the land – it can blame other political parties for not supporting the bill. 

In this “illiberal” system (as Dr Eddy Maloka) would say, the masses will forever be marginalized. The system is not designed to create a better life despite being politically managed by a black government. 

But then, as Bob Marley says: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”!

Dumisani Tembe is a Political Analyst at Kunjalo CDR. Twitter page @KunjaloD

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