Mlangeni was among prominent South Africans who attended the Inclusive Growth conference organised by the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation in the Drakensberg, KwaZulu-Natal, over the weekend.
The conference - which was the brainchild of former president Kgalema Motlanthe - was aimed at discussing the country’s pressing problems, including the state of the economy and governance, challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The contentious land issue, state capture and the economic legacy of apartheid were among the dominant discussions at the conference.
The 93-year-old Mlangeni said the process of land reform was sensitive and that it was likely to cause divisions, adding that the government had to start by giving up the land it owned.
“If the government is not very careful with this problem, it will get problems. Farmers, especially the Afrikaners, are not going to give up this land issue very easily.
"There must be an immediate finding out of how much land belongs to the government and then they can start distributing that land to the people,” Mlangeni said.
At its conference in December last year, the ANC agreed to push for amendments to the Constitution that would pave the way for the government to expropriate land without compensation.
In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the National Assembly that expropriation of land without compensation would be handled in a responsible manner to ensure the country’s economy and food security were not adversely affected.
“In dealing with this complex matter, we will not make the mistakes that others have made. We will not allow smash-and-grab interventions,” Ramaphosa said.
The National Assembly has since set up a constitutional review committee to review section 25 of the Constitution and consider whether it should be amended to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation, with almost one million submissions as of yesterday.
Mlangeni said yesterday that while he was fully behind the project of land reform, he did not know where to stand on the debate around the amendment of the Constitution but urged the government to redistribute immediately.
“We will learn as time goes on which is the best method of distributing this land to the people who require it,” Mlangeni said.
Among those who attended the three-day conference were Ramaphosa, former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, senior public servants, academics, captains of industry and civil society organisations.
Business Leadership SA chief executive Bonang Mohale said land expropriation without compensation could have been executed without much of a flurry over the past years, adding that he backed it.
“As business, we support Ramaphosa, who responsibly announced it in his State of the Nation address and housed it properly in the ad hoc constitutional review committee so that all of us can ventilate our contentious issues around land,” he said.
Economics Professor Ben Turok, a former anti-apartheid activist, said while people were quick to praise the democratic breakthrough and its benefits, there was little emphasis on the economic legacy of apartheid which had to be tackled if the country had to turn its fortunes around.
“We like to talk about human rights and about the political dispensation, but there is an economic legacy which is terribly important and we have to face it. The huge inequalities and wealth - somehow we are very shy to talk about inequality of wealth (which) is not only the highest in the world but beyond comparison with any country in the world. That is the legacy of apartheid,” Turok said.
He said the country’s economy was also riddled with concentration where monopolies were operating in particular sectors while the financial sector was internationalised - also legacies of the past.
“One of the problems of concentration in certain sectors by monopolies is that those monopolies block new entrants, and there is research showing that all over the place new entrants - in particular black entrants - are being blocked by the concentration and the monopolisation of the economy."Jonas said Ramaphosa’s government faced a tough challenge ahead as state capture under former president Jacob Zuma had hollowed out the capacity of the state and reduced business and investor confidence.
He blamed state capture for weakening the strategic and technical capability of the state over recent years under Zuma, saying meritocracy was subordinated to the deployment and appointment of “enablers” of capture at executive, administrative and technical levels.
“Hard skills in corporate governance, finance, supply chain, risk and the technical professions were hollowed out as state institutions were re-purposed away from their service delivery mandates. These losses incurred by state inefficiencies resulted in fewer resources available for pro-poor and anti-inequality fiscal expenditure.
“As cases of corruption and capture became public knowledge there has been the corresponding loss of state legitimacy required to lead society behind a common purpose.
“This has directly undermined social coherence and fuelled mistrust, which in turn was used to weaken institutions meant to fight crime and corruption."