File picture: Zhou Liangjun/Xinhua
JOHANNESBURG - Expropriation without compensation. EWC.Three little letters that have divided and disturbed South Africa more than a meteorite strike. Three little letters that are explosive, emotive yet potentially laden with promise - if we’re careful to not let EWC take us down the WC (water closet or toilet).

And if social media - which can be a pernicious evil or alternatively a binding technology - is an accurate barometer, EWC is polarising this great nation on racial lines to a large degree.

Indeed, whenever an article on this contentious topic is posted, just check out the comments section. Broadly - and I stress broadly! - speaking black commentators mention past historical injustices. White commentators intone chaos and corruption.

Both camps have a point to a degree with the solution probably lying somewhere between the “for” and “against” camps - although I am not propagating flaccid appeasement, a la Neville “Peace In Our Time” Chamberlain, the pre-Churchill UK Prime Minister (in)famous for going out on a limb to accommodate Adolf Hitler in 1938.

But there is no escaping the fact that since 1994, past historical injustices have not been adequately addressed, and we see it in the legacy of skewed spatial development, we see it in the skewed distribution of resources.

Of course, under the ANC some of this has been addressed.

Providing property to the dispossessed and formerly disadvantaged would, among other things, however, allow them to bootstrap themselves up into the middle-class by establishing modest generational wealth, and allowing them something with which to secure bank loans against.

It’s also essential we address chronic unemployment, by the way, and add JWC (jobs with compensation) to EWC. But that's another topic for another time.

President Cyril Ramaphosa - who it is vital we remember is not a wild-eyed populist, but a cool-headed businessman - recently noted that “This is no land grab, nor is it an assault on the private ownership of property. The ANC has been clear that its land reform programme should not undermine future investment in the economy or damage agricultural production and food security.”

He added: “The proposals will not erode property rights, but will instead ensure that the rights of all South Africans, and not just those who currently own land, are strengthened. South Africa has learnt from the experience of other countries, both from what has worked, and what has not, and we will not make the same mistakes that others have made.”

And that’s where the “Z” word - Zimbabwe - comes into play.

Zimbabwe of course was agriculturally and economically crippled by land grabs and is a veritable rallying cry among those opposing EWC.

Wild forecasts of job losses in the millions, a complete crashing of the rand, a wholesale capital flight, further credit rating downgrades, widespread industry shutdown, vast tracts of farmland lying fallow, and a dystopian, Mad Max-like future for South Africa are also predicted by EWC detractors. Many of whom, frankly, are Nimby’s (Not In My Backyard) ensconced in leafy suburbs.

They might also argue that with the EFF making inroads, the ANC is forced to pander to radicalism and provide a land-hungry, disillusioned electorate with a juicy carrot. Especially with elections coming up in 2019.

But, of course, the exact parameters of EWC in Mzansi are still rather unclear, although the battle over the proposed amendment to the Constitution to accommodate EWC has headed to court.

Just last week, Afrikaner rights group AfriForum filed an urgent court bid to halt some of the parliamentary processes leading up to the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution.

Parliament, however, is opposing this bid - and let’s remember that the report recommending that the Constitution be altered was adopted by the ANC, the EFF, and other, smaller opposition parties.

Let’s also remember that while many hold the Constitution to be as inviolable as a holy book, it’s actually a living, breathing document whose genesis back in the 1990s came as a series of compromises.

But it seems that EWC will go ahead - to some degree - come hell or high water.

And its effect on South Africa, her economy and her people will be dictated to a large degree by sentiment, with it being imperative to tread a middle ground.

A middle ground that acknowledges that historical injustices cannot be airbrushed away, while also acknowledging that if applied with thoughtless revolutionary zeal, EWC has the potential to take us down the WC, especially if it’s not combined with JWC.

Meyer Benjamin, the Auto industry veteran, commentator and pre-published author, is the director of the IPOP (In People Our Passion) Motor Group, which includes three Suzuki dealerships, a Mazda dealership, and a Haval dealership, in addition to six successful used-car outlets.

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