SA politics: the rationale behind the rhetoric

Considering the threats, bluster and irrational demands that pour out of government offices, it’s not surprising that SA farmers feel apprehensive. Writer Max du Preez puts our politics into perspective and offers comfort.

- Advertisement -

I am thankful that I don’t have to be a white South African farmer. The burden that farmers bear is very heavy indeed. Above all, they carry the mythical label of ‘land thief’ on behalf of every colonialist. And they do this while rich city folk build little empires for themselves. Farmers could easily resort to bemoaning their fate. But playing victim won’t help. Farmers have to decide whether to rectify this injustice and risk losing their livelihood, or suffer through it and survive financially.

If the answer is the latter, then it’s time to get to know who’s who within South African politics – specifically within the ANC. It’s also important to understand the nuances, so that one knows when a politician is talking sense and when he or she is regurgitating political rhetoric. To distinguish between these, one needs to have an appreciation of what’s possible and impossible within our political power play.

The De Doorns strike was an event that struck farmers close to home. When analysing it, keep in mind that we’re heading towards an election. In this instance, the tripartite alliance is trying to regain hold of the Western Cape and events of this sort are bound to occur again. Farmers should therefore not worry unduly about comments uttered by individuals such as Western Cape ANC leader Marius Fransman and Cosatu Western Cape regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich. They are reckless politicians making election talk.

- Advertisement -

I have to say that I was very frustrated by the reactive manner in which organised agriculture handled the matter. The sector needs to start thinking more tactically and pro-actively. Farmers must tell the country in no uncertain terms: “Get rid of us and South Africa will suffer famine and burn.”

As far as minimum wages go, it’s unrealistic to expect farmers to play a social role; they have businesses to run. Seasonal workers will remain a problem and the only thing that strikes have taught us during the past year is that our police force does not know how to deal with strikers. In the meantime, balance needs to be restored; South Africans have to realise that a low wage is better than none at all.

The Marikana events, too, are not a sign that we’re on the verge of revolution. Support for Cosatu’s affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), took a battering during this affair. Another trade union, Amcu, suddenly gained members and this infuriated the NUM. If it weren’t for the police killing 34 people in one afternoon, we would probably not even be talking about the matter anymore.

Other strikes, such as the one at Sasolburg last year, have to do with political infighting within the ANC. Although these strikes do not signal a dramatic change of the status quo, they do indicate there are problems within the country. Will this lead to a South African Arab Spring? No. We had our Arab Spring in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A free economy
In 1988, Alec Erwin, then Cosatu’s education secretary, was already talking about nationalisation of mines, land and banks. Global players such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) made great efforts at this time to engage with the ANC’s economically minded individuals. The Thabo Mbekis, Tito Mbowenis and Trevor Manuels of the party were flown all over the world to socialist countries, where they could see for themselves the devastating effects of nationalisation.

With this knowledge in hand, it was decided that South Africa’s economy should be based on a free market model and that a nationalised socialistic model would not be on the cards. At Mangaung, any plans to nationalise resources have been put to rest permanently and the ANC should be commended for taking this brave step.

The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) ideology was also given the death blow with the acceptance of the National Development Plan (NDP). It’s a wonderful plan and I urge farmers to read it. The only problem I have with it is that it doesn’t indicate how to create capacity so that the plan is followed through properly. During Nelson Mandela’s and his own presidency, Thabo Mbeki was the man calling the shots. His leadership brought out the best within the ANC.

Jacob Zuma has brought out the worst. As a populist, he was used in an almost brutal manner to knock Mbeki from power. Legal actions against him were unashamedly silenced to make him the new president. But these same legal actions could be used in the near future to knock Zuma from his presidential throne.

The manner in which Zuma was appointed opened the door for a flood of tenderpreneurships and populism. Julius Malema is an example of this. As Malema grew in prominence, people started to say that he was the true face of the ANC. But today it’s clear that this wasn’t so; he was simply a pawn showing that it doesn’t pay to mess with Zuma. Never underestimate Zuma. He was the ANC’s head of intelligence in foreign countries.

Speaking of parties that should not be underestimated, the DA under Helen Zille’s leadership has transformed into a full-blown African party. And I mean this in the best sense of the word. It might be uncomfortable to watch her toyi-toyi on TV, but this is the way to play the political game in South Africa.

She has been able to gather the cream of the young leadership crop – people such as Lindiwe Mazibuko. These young people are transforming the party even further, making it accessible to rural South Africans. Dr Mamphela Ramphele is another bright star on the horizon. She was Steve Biko’s wife and is a realistic, wealthy woman of integrity. Everything indicates that her newly formed political party, Agang, will take part in next year’s general election.

In addition to opposition parties growing stronger, there is rising criticism of the ruling party. The loudest cries are from black city dwellers and prominent black journalists. All of these facts are daunting to the ANC, and the party’s leadership has become paranoid. They know they’ll win the next election, but what about 2019? By then, the opposition parties could have more votes than the ANC.

The reality is that Zuma is weaker after Mangaung than ever before. And Cyril Ramaphosa should not be underestimated. He was the man standing next to Mandela when the latter made his first speech after his release from prison. And Ramaphosa was the man who outmanoeuvred the likes of Roelf Meyer during the early 1990s. I am convinced that he wants to become president.

Finally, our Constitution is one of the finest in the world and it is inviolable. With all of the above in mind, I certainly don’t believe that we are set to become the next Zimbabwe or a failed state.

Adapted by Susan Botes from the keynote address at a recent roadshow arranged by the Northern Cape Red Meat Producers’ Organisation. The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.