Ramaphosa and Malema have missed a golden opportunity with land ...

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Ramaphosa and Malema have missed a golden opportunity with land bill

The two leaders have succumbed to their egos instead of using their mandate to change the course of history

Editor: TimesLIVE
EFF leader Julius Malema says his party rejected the 18th Amendment Bill because it would set back black people’s struggle for land repossession.
ALL OR NOTHING EFF leader Julius Malema says his party rejected the 18th Amendment Bill because it would set back black people’s struggle for land repossession.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

I tested positive for Covid-19 last week, and instead of imagining the worst, I thought at least I would have lived long enough to see an amendment of the constitution which corrects an injustice that started in 1652.

And as I isolated in my room, I couldn’t exactly escape the thoughts of death. I remembered the meme that went: “Lord, Jesus. Is me, your servant ...” I suppose when you’re about to meet your maker, the minutiae of sentence construction make no sense. Even Jesus knows how far London is from SA, for you to get your syntax in order just in time. 

Similarly, I was thinking what matters, politically, is that there is progress in reversing what 1652, 1913 and 1948 did to our land. If you don’t get it, as the cool kids would say online, then forget about it.

The day came, the votes cast, the president and a few were not around because, for them I suppose, not every vote counted. Or, again I suppose, the battle for land was already lost ahead of the vote. Just over 30 or so MPs for the ANC also didn’t show up, to put a cherry on this monumental flop. In the end, the 18th Amendment Bill received 204 against a target of 267. 

I may have survived this bloody Covid, but I don’t know how long I will survive these leaders, these pretenders, who fail to see the opportunity to change the course of history right in front of them.

So I sat choking, not from Covid, as you can imagine, from the monumental flop after public consultations and raised voices across the country. It has all come to nothing, zilch, nada. Fokol. 

For a moment, it felt as if the antibiotic and the many vitamins my doctor forced me to swallow weren’t working, because I could not believe that these descendants of the dispossessed, these people born of “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, to summon memories of the godfather of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, were busy quibbling. 

The EFF released a statement, saying the 18th Constitution Amendment Bill does not introduce “fundamental” changes and resorts to “nil” payments, instead of expropriation without compensation. The nil payments are spelt out in the expropriation bill introduced by the public works department, targeting “abandoned land, state land, land held for speculation purposes and land that poses health and safety risks”. The EFF’s pain is that prime land remains unaffected by this proposed constitutional change. So why pretend that there is progress towards land expropriation? they seem to be legitimately asking. 

Some in the ANC believe this piece of legislation represented great progress in changing ownership patterns. It might not meet the EFF’s level of “fundamental” change, but it certainly is a step forward, they believe. Needless to say, the EFF rejects this “bietjie bietjie maak meer” type of progress. 

The result is that we are where we were before the EFF was born. Poor black people who need the land are poorer. The middle class, choking on debt from mortgage bonds made expensive because of land prices, are writhing in pain. The rich, meanwhile, get richer.

Steve Biko, that doyen of black consciousness, is most probably turning in his grave, seeing the type of black men with political power to change the country, consumed by pride, quibbling over detail. He’d probably repeat his quote: “The black man has become a shell, a shadow of a man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.” 

Between the parties led by Ramaphosa and EFF leader Julius Malema, they have sufficient seats in parliament to help make the type of change that will become as crucial a historical turning point as 1913 is. Yet, si la.

The ANC and EFF set up some committee of sorts to find each other, which collapsed earlier this year. From that perspective, this week’s parliamentary outcome could have been foreseen. 

But what does leadership, in this context, require of the cohort at the helm of our political establishment? Instead of sending Ronald Lamola, and he is an astute, respectable young lion, Ramaphosa needed to ask Malema and his top brass to meet him and his ANC top brass at a resort in Rustenburg, Mbombela or somewhere in Limpopo for a three to five day session. 

The historical moment required Ramaphosa to humble himself and not say, as ANC people are wont to, of himself lowering his office to Malema’s stature. It required a president who understood that Malema had something he needed to help make the sort of change that would be debated long after the two of them had passed on. 

Many leaders in the world do this. Even with the intractable Middle East question, they do this. They clear their diaries, they retreat to inaccessible places and focus on something, one thing, that matters. Eventually, they emerge with some type of progress. This is what our country cried for. The sad thing is that we have Malema and Ramaphosa for leaders. Instead of a deal between them, we have name-calling and media statements. 

The historic moment before us required Ramaphosa to come down to Malema’s level with all the humility he could muster, his eyes fixed not on himself but on the prize. It also required Malema not to be fixated on his position as being the only way. The two of them needed to find that sweet spot, something that represents progress, even if it’s shy of the fundamental change — but perhaps an improvement on the failed bill. 

They owed that to all of us. 

Without a meaningful resolution to the country’s original sin — the land question — SA will find stability elusive, something that will continue to keep investors at bay. This is why I don’t say they both appreciated what is an evisceration of a golden opportunity this moment represented.

It’s tragic. Verwoerd must be dancing, telling his ancestors: “I told you. Black people are their own worst enemies.”

Biko’s quote, adopted for today’s leaders, might read something like: “The black leader has become a shell, a shadow of a leader, completely defeated, drowning in his misery, a slave behaving as if in charge, clueless on how to use the political power in their hands to empower the formerly oppressed, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity.”

I may have survived this bloody Covid, but I don’t know how long I will survive these leaders, these pretenders, who fail to see the opportunity to change the course of history right in front of them. “Lord, is me (forgive my English), your faithful servant. Anyway.”

Where are those vitamins, again? 

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