Strange parallels have emerged on either side (because who needs nuance) of the national debate on the expropriation of land without compensation.
From the bizarre threat of a mass Zulu kingdom exodus, which echoed Australia’s offer of refugee status to 30 000 South African commercial farmers, to the liberal corners of our intelligentsia claiming section 25 sufficiently protects the poor.
The elite have put their ideological differences aside to fight for the common good, which for them seems to be their continued privilege over the rest of society.
This is not to say that good arguments have not been made against the unilateral seizing of privately owned land for the purpose of redistribution.
There are pitfalls to every blanket approach to solving a multifaceted problem. But for Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to ask his impoverished subjects to support the status quo on the argument that land is better placed in his own hands and not inZ the hands of the people he “serves”, smacks of the same elitist, patronising yawn fest emerging from the moderate left and far-right intellectuals, basing their argument on the premise that section 25 of the Constitution should neither be changed nor reinterpreted.
They argue the right to own as much land as you want must be deemed more important than the need to address land reform in a more practical and immediate way than restitution and other policies currently allow.
The land question in South Africa is emotive and the debate can easily morph into arguments based on the cognitive dissonance in one’s political beliefs and a biased agenda.
The report of the high-level panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, published in November 2017, has been used extensively to further the argument that it is government’s inaction and not a gap in policy certainty that has led to the crippling slow pace of land reform.
I am not entirely convinced that this report, led by Kgalema Motlanthe, alone fully probes the shortcomings of policy decisions made at the dawn of South Africa’s democracy.
Emotive and manipulative undertones have emerged from both sides of this argument, from the framing of white farmers as “land thieves” to Free Market Foundation director Themba Nolutshungu’s iteration that expropriation without compensation is a “betrayal of the struggle”.
But it seems that it is not just political parties who have become masters at using one injustice to argue for action, or inaction, which could lead to another.
Even more patronising is pretending that the majority of people calling for expropriation without compensation want revenge rather than social justice.
“We must not be provoked,” Zwelithini said yesterday. “There is no need for the Zulus to be abused by their Treasury, because that will force me – and the world will agree with me – when I declare that I want me and my nation to live on our own and develop on our own, because in SA development is selective [sic].”
I am losing faith in the ability of influential South Africans to influence anything other than more polarised, all-or-nothing attitudes among ordinary citizens, who are the subjects of this debate.