President Cyril Ramaphosa listens to EFF leader Julius Malema speak during the 2018 SONA debate. Picture: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

Cape Town - The thorny topic of land reform and tackling the looting of state resources by the politically connected, more commonly known as state capture in South Africa, dominated Monday's debate on President Cyril Ramaphosa's maiden state-of-the-nation debate.

The ruling ANC resolution to speed up land reform through expropriation without compensation won favour in some opposition benches, but others questioned Ramaphosa's commitment to section 25 of the Constitution, which protects property rights.

"Bold leadership requires that you resist the pressures in your party to undo the rights enshrined in our Constitution, including property rights. These same property rights underpin the entire economy, as you well know from your own successful business career," said Mmusi Maimane, leader of South Africa's biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Maimane said "apartheid's original sin" of land dispossession could be addressed in a way that does not impact on property rights.

"We can speed up land reform by rooting out corruption and inefficiency. And we must trust emerging black farmers with real land ownership, and not just as permanent tenants of the state. Let those who work the land, own the land."

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Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema took it upon himself to warn both Maimane and Ramaphosa that land was an emotive issue and that they could not found to be "bluffing" or paying lip service to black South Africans who, decades after being dispossessed of their land through violence, were still destitute and poor.

"Anyone opposed to expropriation without compensation is the enemy of our people and such a person will be dealt with," said Malema. 

"Anybody who is worried about investment will be worried about expropriation without compensation but they know you [Ramaphosa] are just passing time ... you are bluffing."

Malema added that it was spurious to attach conditions to land seizures because there were none when the land was taken from the indigent.

"There were no conditions, they just killed our people," he said.

Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota later attacked Ramaphosa's promise to push ahead with expropriation without compensation, suggesting that it would not only violate the Constitution but constitute a new form of racial discrimination.

"Are you going to change the Bill of Rights in our Constitution?" Lekota asked in the debate.

He angrily brushed off an interjection by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) member of Parliament (MP) Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who asked how a former political prisoner jailed by the apartheid regime could oppose the return of land to the dispossessed. 

"What were you doing on Robben Island?" Ndlozi asked.

Lekota responded by asking how Ramaphosa chose to define those whose right to property could be usurped.

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"Can you tell me Mr President who is not our people? Then national party used to say others are non-Europeans. Now who is not our people?"

He listed the country's historic immigrants, from the French Huguenots to Germans who fled Nazi oppression to foreigners who flocked to be part of the Gold Rush of the late twentieth century and asked whether the president planned to expropriate the land of their descendents.

Ramaphosa on Friday told the National Assembly: "We are determined that expropriation without compensation should be implemented in a way that increases agricultural production, improves food security and ensure that the land is returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.

"Government will undertake a process of consultation to determine the modalities of the implementation of this resolution."

He has mooted faster land reform as part of a drive to boost the agriculture sector.

The ruling party adopted a resolution at its December elective conference where Ramaphosa became party leader to move beyond the willing seller, willing buyer principle to seize land without compensation in certain circumstances.

State capture - another burning issue, which dogged the presidency and administration of Ramaphosa's predecessor, Jacob Zuma - evoked some fervent speeches from the floor.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa lauded Ramaphosa's speech, saying it "restored hope and put South Africa on the right track for the restoration of our dignity".

However, Holomisa cautioned that Ramaphosa's rise to power was not of his own making.

"This opportunity however was given to you on a silver platter by the steadfast efforts by the loyal opposition, the media and civil society while your party's leadership turned a blind eye to brazen looting of state resources and fiddled while South Africa was burning," said Holomisa.

He said now that Ramaphosa was in charge, he should strengthen the state capture inquiry with forensic audit experts and with members of the criminal justice system ready to "pounce" on those implicated, including members of the cabinet which Ramaphosa inherited.

"Once the inquiry identifies instances of corruption, the Hawks must pounce, the judicial system must take the baton while the inquiry continues," said Holomisa.

He called for the setting up of dedicated courts "as was done in 2010 with the World Cup" to quickly prosecute those guilty of helping private interests loot the public purse.

"Institutionalised corruption has been exacerbated by political heads usurping the powers of accounting officers in all three spheres of government. There must be consequences for those responsible..." said Holomisa.

The voices against state corruption in the ANC benches seemed to be more audible during the debate.

As Deputy Justice and Correctional Services Minister Thabang Makwetla put it: "The winds of change are blowing". This was evident when he quoted former public protector Thuli Madonsela - something that was rarely seen from ruling party benches during the Zuma years.

Madonsela more than once made adverse findings against former president Jacob Zuma and members of his Cabinet, and even found Parliament wanting in how it held the executive accountable. She was often vilified by politicians loyal to Zuma and her findings ignored, something the Constitutional Court rectified when it said her directives were binding and could only be set aside by a court of law.

Makwetla said government was compelled to uphold the Constitution.

"Since 1994 we have changed the laws to obey our Constitution, now we live it," he said.

On the state capture inquiry, Makwetla said the ANC-led government was committed to ensuring it could go about its work without interference.

"There must not be any fear that any of the regulatory instruments will hinder the commission from performing its functions or unduly protecting those who are implicated," he said.

"This is evidence that the winds of change is upon us and there is impetus that we do things differently so we can get appropriate results."

DA MP Natasha Mazzone used her speech to pay tribute to parliamentary lawyer, advocate Nthuthuzelo Vanara, who allegedly rejected a bribe by a Cabinet minister to collapse the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom.

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Vanara, in an affidavit handed to Speaker Baleka Mbete, said State Security Minister Bongani Bongo had offered him money to resign from his role as evidence leader in the probe. 

"To the brave men and woman of South Africa who, despite facing tremendous pressure, the threat of unemployment and alienation from certain sectors, have boldly spoken out against and exposed corruption, State Capture, nepotism, cronyism and mismanagement, I say thank you," Mazzone said.

"I particularly single out an unsung hero of this tale. A man of such virtue, such bravery and so proud of his country, that even when propositioned with an amount of money, the likes of which we could only dream of in the case of winning the lotto, said 'No, I choose South Africa, I choose country duty'," Mazzone said, referring to Vanara.

Mazzone said she found it "disturbing" that many of those who had helped the Gupta family and their associates loot state resources were still seated in the National Assembly, including Bongo.

Opposition parties called on Ramaphosa to fire all ministers linked to state capture allegations and replace them with "ethical leadership" - something he committed government to when he delivered his SONA.

African News Agency/ANA