Zimbabwe-influenced Julius Malema stirs the land reform pot in South Africa

Jun 21, 2011

The controversy-loving Julius Malema has just been re-elected as president of the youth wing of South Africa's ruling ANC party. He wasted no time in raising the hackles and fear of many by reiterating a call for radical land reform, even if it is to be without compensation. For both his detractors and opponents, the experience of Zimbabwe looms very large for South Africa in this debate.

Predictably, the condemnation of Malema was swift, emotional and widespread. "Look at the decline of the economy of Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe expropriated land from white farmers," many said derisively. It is a puzzle to many that Malema could express admiration for the controversial process in Zimbabwe. Malema has previously half-heatedly sought to soften his stance somewhat by saying he did not support the use of violence as in Zimbabwe.

While for many Zimbabwe is the perfect example of precisely how not to conduct land reform, there is a significant body of opinion that laments the process and the poor results to date, but not the idea of radical, compensation-less reform.

It is no wonder many members of South Africa's almost still exclusively white large-scale commercial farming sector are exploring opportunities elsewhere in Africa and beyond. It is also not particularly surprising that there are many black South Africans like Malema who look at their northern neighbour as an inspiration, if not necessarily an example to be precisely copied.

The conditions that make a similar radicalism popular in the two countries have a lot of similarities. Therefore, while most look at Zimbabwe as an example of land reform failure, there are others, including Malema, who look at it as a messy work in progress towards a goal that they would wish for South Africa too: a reversal of the current situation where whites who constitute 13% of the population hold 87% of the land.

The points for land reform are made on the basis of hard-to-fault arguments like broadening economic opportunities, creating employment and so forth. These are also the kind of criteria on which Zimbabwe's land reform is often judged a failure.

But Malema never specifically speaks in these economic terms with regard to land reform. In both South Africa and Zimbabwe, Malema and Robert Mugabe understood what many overlook about the issue of land:  that it was and is one of the most raw reminders of white colonial conquest and black defeat. White farmers in Zimbabwe legalistically and correctly argued that Mugabe's actions were unconstitutional because they had title deeds to their farms. What they didn't understand was that because of how still fresh the wounds of colonial and racial conquest were in Zimbabwe, and because of how glaring the modern day racial-economic disparities that resulted from that had become, Mugabe was appealing to a more emotional, populist core.

Just as in any country going to war for reasons of 'national honor' can be seen as an acceptable excuse to over-ride the legal limitations of 'normal' times, Mugabe similarly cast his land expropriation drive in ways that transcended the economic and legalistic arguments that were made against it. The attitude was, ''we have waited long enough; we are taking the land and we will fix the legal and constitutional issues later,'' which is what was done.

Where blacks were as marginalised and oppressed as in South Africa, Mugabe's unprecedented (for an African leader) boldness to fight the considerable weight of the combined local and international forces against him to carry this off is far more to be admired than the poor results are to be feared. For Malema and many others like him, the main take-home lesson of Zimbabwe is of a bold African leader who has 'taken the country' back in the most fundamental of ways; by taking back the physical/emotional/spiritual/psychic asset of land. Malema and Mugabe both understand how this is 'closure' for many Africans in a way that very few other things could be.   

The economic and legal issues are not irrelevant, but people who make them in isolation from these other issues miss a key point about why land is such a particularly raw, emotive issue in Zimbabwe and South Africa, as opposed to just about anywhere else in Africa.

Reduced productivity, employment and export, as well as corruption in the land re-allocations are just some of the entirely legitimate criticisms that have been made against Mugabe-style land reform. But South Africans who hope that these can be used to stave off the pressure for reform in their own country, even perhaps ways similar in some ways to that in 'disastrous' Zimbabwe, may be fooling themselves.

Admirers of Mugabe's like Malema see the results of the expropriations in Zimbabwe as the painful, regrettable but perhaps un-avoidable 'collateral damage' of a pro-black revolution. As was often heard in Zimbabwe, there is an attitude of, "Yes it has been messy, but what else could we have done in dealing with such recalcitrant, deeply entrenched farmers? Now that we have the land, we can fix the problems. " 

The debate over how to implement land reform to achieve the various political and other aims while doing minimum economic damage will only heat up in South Africa in the coming years. One of the ways in which Zimbabwe could influence it quite differently from the so far mostly negative context in which it is cited is if agriculture began to make a significant recovery, this time under mostly black land owners. Then Malema and people of his ilk will be able to say, as Mugabe has already began to do in view of improvements in tobacco, maize and other sectors; ''Zimbabwe is indeed a viable example of land reform despite its early mistakes and failures."

Even if this is not the progression of events in the two countries, it is clear that the heat of the pressure for land reform will not dissipate in South Africa any time soon, both because it is widely considered as needed, and also because people like Julius Malema will be there to keep on stoking the fire. For both opponents and supporters of the radical measures favoured by Malema, the developing situation in next-door Zimbabwe will continue to be used to make their points.     


MrK said...

QUOTE: " Predictably, the condemnation of Malema was swift, emotional and widespread. "Look at the decline of the economy of Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe expropriated land from white farmers," many said derisively. "

The truth is that a lot of smoke and mirrors have been thrown up to obscure what actually happened in and to Zimbabwe.

There is no puzzle, once you know the facts and are not limited in your understanding by a racist, white supremacist mindset. All you have to do is follow the money.

To punish land reform in Zimbabwe sabotage it, the illegal Bush Administration put the Zimbabwean government on a credit freeze, starting on Januari 1st 2002. The Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (sponsor: Bill Frist, co-sponsors: Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Russ Feingold and Jesse Helms), froze the Zimbabwean lines of credit at international financial institutions.

The text of ZDERA reads:


(c) MULTILATERAL FINANCING RESTRICTION- ... the Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director to each international financial institution to oppose and vote against--

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

This froze the Zimbabwean Government's credit lines, forcing them to operate on a cash only basis from Jan. 1, 2002 onwards, print money, which caused world record hyperinflation, starting in the year 2002. Historically, including the Weimar Republic, currency hyperinflation always results from an infusion of a large amount of currency into the economy, not land reform or for any other reason.

This is what happened in Zimbabwe. The MDC knew it, because leading members of the MDC, like Eddie Cross and David Coltart, aided in the creation of the document. It was intended to take the Zimbabwean economy and government out, in a classic Shock Doctrine approach.

However, because economic sanctions against Zimbabwe are highly unpopular with the Zimbabwean electorate, the MDC, US and UK governments for the last 10 years have lied and stated repeatedly that 'there are no economic sanctions against Zimbabwe', only 'individual travel restrictions' or 'targeted sanctions' against (lots of) indivduals.

Unless you know there were economic sanctions which destroyed the economy, you will be misled into believing that it was land redistribution which destroyed the economy, and therefore 'should never be tried'.

Confusing the effects of economic sanctions with the effects of land reform will always lead to wrongheaded policies.

This is what the MDC were willing to do to Zimbabwe in order to ascend to power. The MDC, not accidentally, is also a neoliberal party, which wants to privatize state enterprises, and does not want significant local ownership of the Zimbabwean economy. This makes them the party that takes the bribes, and is basically the business representative for transnational corporations and the banks who own them, in Zimbabwe. Which is a global phenomenon of all neoliberal parties, including Neo Labour and the New Democrats. And by the way, the CEOs and bankers who own these corporations don't have to live there, and don't, so they don't care about the everyday conditions of local people, unless it interferes with their extraction of precious and industrial stones and metals.

MrK said...

The pressures building up on the colonial economy are:

a) 2.8% to 3% annual African population growth

In 1891, the African population of Zimbabwe was 250,000. Today, it is 13,000,000. To pretend that the same land distribution pattern could be maintained during both situations was selfdelusional then and now.

b) The information age

Great wealth can no longer be hidden from public view. People, through the internet, mobile phones, radio and tv programmes, become increasingly aware where the nation's money is going, and why they are poor, even when they work 12 hour days. As long as you live in a democracy, where the will of the people is reflected in government policy, that disparity will eventually be smoothed out through legislation.

c) Economic Development

There is no economic development in a country where 90% of the population is excluded from significant land or mine ownership, directly or indirectly (indirect mine ownership for instance through mine taxes going into government koffers and being redistributed as no charge education and healthcare, infrastructure, cheap credit for entrepreneurs, etc. - such a level of taxation may require nationalisation, at least as a last resort in case of tax evasion).

Consider the following: the average size of a farm in Zimbabwe before land reform was 2500 hectares, in South Africa today before land reform it is 1350 hectares. In the EU, where unlike in the US the family farm still exists, it is 90 hectares. The average African in Zimbabwe before landreform owned 2.5 hectares. The 'farm' in the movie 'Mugabe And The White African', Mount Carmel, was 12,000 hectares, huge even by Zimbabwean standards, and something the documentary makers desperately tried to hide. (Source: "Zimbabwe - White farms being torched", 10 Jan 2010, meattradenewsdaily)


The biggest failure of white Zimbabweans and South Africans, has been to envision a future in which they have a place, but where the African population works and owns most of the economy. Trapped in their self justifying ideology of white supremacy, they simply could not move with the flows of history, demography and economics. This is the main theme of the 'documentary' Mugabe And The White African.

Imagine how much money they could have made (and I don't mean hoarded) in a fully developed economy, where the average family earns at least $12,000 a year, has disposable income, and where there is a need for professional services, including in agriculture.

Instead, they tried to cling on to this outdated economic model, of giant estates with hundreds of semi-paid 'workers'. If only they would have thought about developing the community, they would be not merely feared, but liked and respected.

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