Julius Malema addresses foreign nationals at a transit camp in Chatsworth. The writer says the EFF leader, with his policy on land redistribution, has abandoned any notion of socioeconomic transformation. Photo: Shelley Kjonstad
Julius Malema addresses foreign nationals at a transit camp in Chatsworth. The writer says the EFF leader, with his policy on land redistribution, has abandoned any notion of socioeconomic transformation. Photo: Shelley Kjonstad

How Malema sold out on land reform

By Andile Mngxitama Time of article published May 10, 2015

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EFF leader Julius Malema has watered down the principle of expropriation without compensation, writes Andile Mngxitama.


Last month, EFF leader Julius Malema abandoned the party’s radical demand for land expropriation without compensation. He opted instead for the amorphous reformist demand of expropriation of “non-productive land”.

The EFF stands on seven “non-negotiable” cardinal pillars, with land expropriation being at the top of the list.

The EFF founding manifesto is clear that land redress cannot be done piecemeal.

The manifesto is emphatic that all land will be expropriated without compensation. What happened here?

The EFF policy document on land is even more strident. It starts off by asking: “What shall we do with the land once it has been reclaimed?”

The document answers itself plainly: “There is a need to place the question squarely: land must be returned because it belongs to black people!” That’s the first principle.

What we would do with the land is none of the business of the land thieves. We want it back because it’s ours. The EFF’s main claim for land is based on the anticolonial logic that all land in South Africa is stolen property.

This logic goes as far as positing that the whole racist organisation of society, which ensures that blacks live in townships, in squatter camps and are landless while whites live in relative security, owning land and the economy, is a direct result of land dispossession.

We would do well to remember that when the EFF arrived in Parliament, it agitated robustly against “land thieves”. Furthermore, the ruling party was offered the EFF’s 6 percent of the national vote to amend the constitution to effect “land expropriation without compensation”.

Malema’s first gesturing towards reformism and the watering down of the land demand was made in his closing remarks at the EFF elective conference in December. He introduced the strange concept of “unoccupied land”.

As usual no one asked what that meant. All land is illegally occupied by dint of colonialism and the racist legal framework.

Faced with a roomful of the Stellenbosch white agricultural capitalist class, those whom the EFF calls land thieves, Malema finally abandoned the first EFF non-negotiable cardinal pillar and assured the white farmers that, as long “as it’s a productive farm, we don’t have to interfere with the production on that piece of land”.

He told them that when there is a part of the land “which is not used for agriculture purposes, we would be having a problem. All we are saying is the land must be used. It must not lie idle.”

Historical redress was replaced by concerns for productivity. Justice was replaced by colonial economics. In effect, the status quo was confirmed and a gradualist approach to land redress introduced.

These guarantees for white landowners diminish the urgency of addressing the land question radically. Instead, the EFF has adopted the ANC tempo, which has failed dismally to deliver land.

Underlying this compromise on the demand for land is the apartheid logic that if land is redistributed to blacks then people will experience food insecurity.

One wishes that the leader of the party had read his own party policies. Had he done so he would have known that a backlash from white landowners and global forces was anticipated, but would not be accommodated as this would be a surrender in the battle for decolonisation.

In Marxist parlance, it can be said that Malema abandoned any notion of socialist transformation, to maintain capitalist agricultural relations. He replaced radical transformation with the inclusion of blacks as farmers into the system.

In other words, he settled for a mere deracialisation of agricultural capitalism instead of agitating for its obliteration. To drive the point home, Malema asked white farmers to “mentor” new black farmers.

Here we see the admiration of the exploitative, violent, racist and environmentally unfriendly agricultural paradigm that puts profits before the people who drive the sector.

One has to ask what kind of mentoring we can expect from white farmers who make profits out of exploitation and produce for the global market using the most harmful chemicals.

Did we not see a violent protest by farmworkers in the Cape Winelands, which preceded the Marikana massacre? We see that, just like the mining sector, whose Cyril Ramaphosas are mentored by its white captains, Malema is asking for this for the agricultural sector.

The address to the white farmers was in effect a salesman’s pitch. In classical salesman style, Malema stroked his racist landed audience’s ego, in effect saying: “We admire you, you feed us, you mentor us, your land is safe, we would interfere only with that which you don’t want or use.”

In other words, he was saying: “Give us the rejected land.”

The sales pitch reached its apex with a plea, cap in hand – as Ian Du Toit of the Gesprek Forum, which invited Malema, told Cape Talk radio the day after his address. Du Toit reported that the EFF leaders ended their talk by asking for donations from the gathered landed settler oligarchy of Stellenbosch.

For their part the farmers were so impressed and so reassured that “many clamoured to have photographs taken with Malema”. Brilliant by any account.

The sting of this whole operation is that a leader who has massive financial problems of his own is seen here trading off one of the principles of his party in exchange for financial donations from the principal enemies of his party programme.

This is a betrayal of the vision of the EFF, which gave so many of us hope and courage. The militancy of the EFF’s demands and uncompromising stance revived hope in many.

The landless and poor believed the EFF was a party that would stand with them against the moneyed and powerful.

But, alas, this dream is fast turning into another nightmare.

The quick transition from expropriation of all land to “unoccupied” then “non-productive” land has had the effect of protecting white farmers. De facto fighters on the ground have been encouraged to occupy unoccupied municipality land to build shacks, thereby not interfering with white-owned land.

We saw in wealthy Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal how EFF members made a hasty retreat as soon as a farmer showed them his plans for the land. One moment the land was “unoccupied”, the next moment there were plans and the landless had to go home.

This is a strategy of deception. It is not calculated to address the rural or the urban land hunger. Land occupations have become a political football for next year’s local government elections.

The truth is that the ruling party has no programme, desire or courage to address these challenges because it is itself beholden to white capital. The landless are on their own.

In 21 years of democracy, only about 8 percent of the land has been returned. It would take more than 100 years to reach a mere 30 percent.

The principled demand for “land expropriation without compensation” is the only real answer to land redress. This demand must be driven by the truth that in 1652 a group of foreigners from Europe arrived here and used force of arms to take land from Africans.

They didn’t ask if the land was being used productively.

The racist scaremongering that blacks can’t farm must also be laid to rest and cannot be used by a party that claims to be radical, militant and socialist.

The agricultural sector is inefficient and racist and does not contribute to food security.

Our country is a net food importer and the sector contributes less than 5 percent to the gross domestic product while hiring an exploited and abused 700 000 farm workers.

This fundamental policy shift poses the question: Will ordinary members of the EFF defend the party’s cardinal pillars, or will they allow their leader to edit its policies and tailor them as he wishes?

The tragedy of this whole turn of events is that the EFF is not broke.

It gets close to R70 million a year from the Independent Electoral Commission and Parliament. The party does not need to go cap in hand to landowners, beg for money and water down party policies in doing so.

The African revolution has failed because leaders abandon principle for money and comfort. We are facing the prospects of an ugly African malaise in our new revolution.

Land is too important to be turned into a political game for small change from those whose fore-bears stole it from us.

Writer, philosopher and revolutionary Frantz Fanon put it elegantly when he said: “For a colonised people the most essential value, because it’s the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.”


* Mngxitama is a former EFF MP.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Independent

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