Dr Eugene Brink, Strategic Advisor for Community Affairs at AfriForum
An Afrikaans person recently said to me that he didn’t really care what happened to land, because it did not belong to him. Such statements are not only ignorant and insensitive, but also very dangerous.
This person is obviously a city dweller from Pretoria, with a home in a suburb. Why should he then care about a farmer’s used or unused land somewhere in the countryside? Or about people who invade state land in suburbs and start building houses there? Or about payments to claimants who never receive the land? Well, he should care. If he doesn’t feel strongly about it now, he will regret it later.
The shocking truth is that the problems of these current tragedies – Venezuela and Zimbabwe – both started with land. It later extended to all kinds of tyranny and calamities, but everything started with the violation of property rights and failed land reform. Eventually it became the whole country’s problem because people in cities like Caracas, Harare and Bulawayo also had to stand in queues to buy food or go hungry because food was unavailable. The ANC uses these two disasters as a type of guiding star and model and regularly express their admiration of it. Deputy President David Mabuza recently visited Venezuela to show their support of dictator Nicholás Maduro and his regime.
Land had been a difficult issue even before Robert Mugabe became President in 1980. “Land was a pressing issue,” writes historian Martin Meredith in The State of Africa. The transition from a white minority government to a black majority government accompanied the condition of willing buyer and willing seller principle, however. Mugabe reluctantly agreed at Lancaster House not to expropriate for ten years.
Paul Kenyon writes in his book Dictatorland: The men who stole Africa, that Mugabe had firmly placed this issue on the election agenda in 1990: “It makes absolute nonsense of our history as an African country that most of our arable and ranching land is still in the hands of our erstwhile colonisers.”
Mugabe, not bothered by international opinion, planned to obtain 13 million hectares – half of the white-owned farm land. Government already had access to half a million acres that it did not redistributed.
Farms were indeed transferred; however, the new owners displayed very little skill or willingness to learn. “They wanted trophy properties, and let them fall into disrepair, rearing up irrigation pipes to sell the lead, abandoning farm machinery, allowing the fields to wilderness,” Kenyon writes. “Mugabe, with his degree in economics, knew that rendering fertile farmland unproductive made no economic sense, but this wasn’t about that; it was about rewarding the loyal, and punishing the old enemy.”
He later started distributing land to so-called “war veterans”. “We are going to take the land, and we are not going to pay a cent to any soul,” he declared with frankness. The Zimbabwean Parliament was ecstatic.
There isn’t enough room here to relate everything that then went awry, but Zimbabwe is a textbook case of how land reform and land grabs can lead to a complete deterioration. Hyperinflation, food scarcity, a police state, international isolation, unaffordable fuel, gripping poverty and a complete loss of expertise as a result of emigration are just some of the many recent and current characteristics of Zimbabwe. Even if Mugabe and his comrades grabbed land “for free”, the whole Zimbabwe (and especially common people) eventually had to pay the price.
There are very few non-war-stricken countries so often in the news currently as Venezuela. Like Zimbabwe, things went awry there over the last 20 years in a shocking way. This can be traced back directly to a socialist dictator and government that wanted to occupy land and would have given it back to previously disadvantaged people. But, just like Zimbabwe, this land was never given back to “the people”: It was an enormous corrupt plot to benefit the regime and reward loyalists.
Venezuela was still the richest country in Latin America in the mid-80s. Hugo Chavez amended the constitution in 1999 to declare that the existence of large unused country estates (latifundios) were against the interests of society. Please note: The President decided what the interest of “society” (defined in whichever way) should be – and basically equated the state and society
Land grabbing were also incited; productive land was also transformed into unproductive land so that it could also be taken. No title deeds were awarded to new farmers, despite promises that this would have been done. They received land on a tentative basis, and it could be taken back at any time.
Neither was land given to deserving people to farm, and agricultural production plummeted. Michael Albertus writes as follows in Foreign Policy: “This helped generate a set of politically reliable clients, who were favoured through land grants, and who then helped the regime perpetuate itself in power by voting for it in elections.”
By the mid-2010s people were standing in queues – à la Zimbabwe – to obtain food and other necessities. 80% of Venezuelans are urbanised and have no wish to farm but can neither obtain the daily necessities of an urban existence.
It was calculated that the hyperinflation in Venezuela in the 2018 reached 80 000%. You literally no longer know what you will be paying for something a minute later.
South Africa and AfriForum
Although South Africa is nowhere near the levels of these countries, the citizenry cannot rest on its laurels simply because there are no immediate dangers in our midst. If our government said it was going to expropriate land without compensation, there should be an element of seriousness and truth in it, shouldn’t there? Mugabe was also not taken seriously everywhere, and we know what happened there. And if they can take our land, why not also take other property (even legally)? Or commit other types of oppression? This happened in Venezuela and Zimbabwe, and this cannot be excluded as a possibility in South Africa. Our economy is already deflated, fuel prices soar, and investors are currently very weary of Pres Ramaphosa’s empty promises.
The difference thus far between Venezuela and Zimbabwe on the one hand and South Africa on the other is that the first two never had an AfriForum. The Zimbabwean farmer Ben Freeth has acknowledged this frankly and often. In Zimbabwe opposition parties were weakened and cheated from the outset, and farmer unions woke up too late. In Venezuela, opposition parties were largely divided and weakened, and could not offer any resistance.
AfriForum recently started to oppose a land claim in Centurion that affects 2 000 families and several businesses. Government and the claimants want to force through a false claim, which boils down to theft. In the end, it is a corrupt bunch where civil officers team up with claimants to share the pay-out (compensation) of billions of rand (and for which the tax payers must foot the bill). Land, homes, tax money, core principles and even the stability of the country are at stake in this fight. If you thought that something like this does not affect you, hopefully I convinced you that it is in everyone’s interest that such claims and land grabbing aren’t tolerated.