Former president Thabo Mbeki urges ANC rethink on EWC

It is a well-known fact that the ANC sees itself not primarily as a ruling party but rather as a movement. This means that it needs to justify its continued existence in terms of the attainment of the objectives given at the organisation’s founding. The need to do this is what informs former President Thabo Mbeki’s critique of the expropriation without compensation policy (EWC) through the “leak” of his foundation’s memo. 

According to Mbeki, the constitution of the Native Congress said the following about what the objectives of the ANC were to be:

  • to promote unity and mutual cooperation between the Government and the Abantu Races of South Africa;
  • to promote the educational, social, economic and political elevation of the native people in South Africa;
  • to bring about better understanding between the white and black inhabitants of South Africa; and,
  • to safeguard the interests of the native inhabitants throughout South Africa by seeking and obtaining redress for any of their just grievances.

The first and third objectives are negated  by the racially divisive EWC policy. The second and fourth objectives are plainly incompatible with any form of EWC policy, racial or not.

Any EWC policy necessarily requires taking someone’s property. If the ANC was founded to address the dispossession of the property owned by the native peoples of this country - just another way of saying expropriation without compensation - and if it also wants to promote unity between people of different races, the ANC cannot then perpetuate the same theft against the current natives for any reason, especially racial reasons.

It is important to point out that in adopting the EFF’s policy without providing more compelling justification, we are left with nothing but the EFF’s racial justifications which are explicitly opposed to the ANC’s very foundations.

Mbeki reinforces his understanding of this historic mission by quoting various examples from ANC history. His understanding of the ANC’s non-racial character throughout its history is correct and can be seen especially in the two cases referenced by Mbeki when the character of the ANC was challenged from within and how it responded to these challenges.

The first case recalls the events that led to the formation of the PAC in 1959. The ANC sacrificed internal unity when it was most important, during the dark days of apartheid, for the principles of non-racialism as expressed in the Freedom Charter: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. That, on its own, is a remarkable achievement considering the historical context but the case of the “gang of eight,” is possibly even more impressive:

After being banned in 1960, the ANC was forced to go into exile or face extinction. Here again, it faced an internal challenge from what Mbeki labels a faction over its non-racial character. This faction, or “gang of eight” was later expelled by the ANC, even though unity was, understandably, almost a religious value to the exiled organisation.

Of course a sceptic might say that continuing adherence to non-racialism was forced upon the ANC to ensure continued communist support from China and the USSR. Such critics might have a point if the ANC could sacrifice its own unity when under fire for the sake of non-racialism yet jettison the same principle when it is in power and has access to taxpayer resources.

I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. Mbeki is correct in asking the party he once led to explain to the public why this dramatic change in policy is necessary:

“However, unfortunately and strangely, the published ANC Land Resolution as adopted at the December 2017 54th National Conference contains no explanation as to why the ANC felt it necessary to effect such important policy change as was intended by prescribing a general principle of ‘land expropriation without compensation’!”

Mbeki goes on to deal with how the ANC should have dealt with the challenge of what he calls the “Land Question”, suggesting an internal review after 24 years in government to deal with 23 policy points, the first eight of which deal with the many uses South Africans have for land.

The next seven points deal with determining the extent of, what is called by politicians, the “Land Hunger” of poor black South Africans. These have possibly made the former president realise that the rhetoric around land has doomed the government’s land reform programme to failure, since most poor black people seem to want to be part of a modern industrial economy rather than a 19th century agrarian one. This is simply because the cities are where the greatest potential for wealth creation exists as evidenced by the industrial revolutions of the West, and presumably because the antidote to poverty is the adoption of policies that will be conducive to the participation of the greatest number of people in the wealth-creation process.

Mbeki’s memo is divided into 27 sections. These mostly deal with the ANC’s abandonment of non-racialism as evidenced by the party’s debate on EWC, and its confusing of the imperative of restituting to dispossessed black people their stolen property, as opposed to dispossessing white people without regard to historical evidence. Section 25 of Mbeki’s memo deals most directly with the economic disruption that the implementation of EWC would cause:

Mbeki asserts that the owners of private capital need to be included as part of any solution to the “Land Question.” But it is not clear how helpful this distinction between the owners of private capital, and private property owners in general, would be. All capital is property and all property has the potential to be capital depending on what consumers in the market demand.

A fixation on this artificial distinction might resolve immediate macro-economic problems with policies like EWC but it will likely serve to perpetuate what Mbeki calls capitalism with “South African characteristics”: an economy dominated by the crony relationship between big business, labour and the government; a fixture of the SA economy even under the Mbeki years of high economic growth.

The former president’s principled condemnation of the apparent reversal of the ANC’s non-racialism is appreciated. In the same breath however, he needs to appreciate that the fundamental problem is the lack of respect for the human rights of South Africans going back to at least colonial times and likely even further back than that. Restitution for injustices suffered in the past is of the greatest importance and so too is avoiding making the same mistakes now and in the future. To treat EWC as merely one more option available to government is self-defeating and potentially catastrophic since  the recognition, security and protection of private property is a fundamental right of all humans.

Empirical data provided by studies like the IPRI, EFW, and Global Competitiveness Report demonstrate that if this is embraced as an inviolable principle together with the principles of freedom to choose, freedom to compete and voluntary exchange, there will be high economic growth rates as South Africa rises to deal with its challenges.

Thabo Mbeki clearly understood this during his presidency and hence the high economic growth rates SA experienced then. Mbeki’s commendable challenge to EWC seems to be to rescue the ANC from itself and from the clutches of the EFF.

Mpiyakhe Dhlamini is a data science intern at the Free Market Foundation 
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