South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) crowd have been trying to rewrite history in typical fascist manner, by accusing all modern white South Africans of being land and resource thieves. Not only is this quite rich coming from politicians implicated in widespread corruption, it is also a blatant lie for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, the vast majority of white South Africans live on urban and suburban properties that they paid market-related prices for. Always conveniently left out, is that South Africa’s sky-high income and wealth taxes have been a form of restitution for 26 years. In the same vein, EFF/RET propaganda about mineral ownership omit how expensive and skill-intensive it is to mine. Or about how much more a government can make out of taxation than nationalisation. Of course, nationalisation offers them more opportunities for corruption and cronyism.
The EFF and RET twist the historical narrative to suit their fascist agenda
History is very clear. All countries have been subject to varying waves of settlement, invasion, conquest, colonisation and immigration. South Africa is no exception, with first Khoi-San, then Bantus, and finally Europeans and Asians (as slaves and indentured labourers) settling the country. Settlement in South Africa took many forms: forced migrations such as the Mfecane, treaties, transactions, conquests, dispossession (e.g. the Land Act of 1913), and cultivation of unoccupied land.
Some of the land dispossession that took place was black on black, while some black tribes competed with first people (Khoi-San) for grazing and hunting land. Into this competitive arena stepped European colonists and their Afro-Asian slaves, putting the pre-existing competition for land on steroids.
Untangling who owned what 200 or 300 years ago is clearly ridiculous since records of treaties and land ownership are patchy. It would be like asking Moroccan or Algerian Arabs to give back the land their ancestors took from Berbers in North Africa or asking descendants of the Normans to return their English conquests.
There is a solid case for land restitution that covers the last century – with some caveats
Land expropriation in the modern era is a different scenario. South Africa’s existence as a unitary state and the paper trails provided by Union and apartheid governments provide a clear, logical path to restitution. That obviously includes vast tracts of government-owned land and communal land (think Ingonyama Trust – the largest landowner in KwaZulu-Natal). The patriarchal and feudal disenfranchisement of communal land dwellers is often ignored by the liars of the EFF/RET.
Another subtlety of South African land and resource ownership is that a tiny group of mostly white South Africans benefitted vastly compared to other white South Africans. It is ludicrous and egregious to lump a hard-working professional with a billionaire mining magnate. Targeting the wealth of 50,000 white South Africans who benefitted the most from apartheid deals (e.g. Koos Bekker and Ton Vosloo at Naspers) makes much more sense than demonising a whole population group. Black South Africans may be pleasantly surprised how much support there is for such an approach among their white compatriots.
That said, any semi-decent white South African should support equitable and sensible land restitution within a structured legal framework that includes government and communal land. Admittedly it can be confusing to wrap your head around the technicalities, with the alt-right and apartheid apologists spreading disinformation and the populist left blanket threatening whole population groups. Fortunately South Africa has some outstanding land law experts and NGOs specialising in land rights and restitution. I can recommend the PLAAS institute and LARC research centre for sober unbiased analyses.
What is not on though is the constant hate speech and disinformation thrown by EFF and RET cadres at white, and even Asian and coloured, minority groups. Fascist slogans such as calling white South Africans alien oppressors, invaders, thieves and rapists remind chillingly of the Nazi propaganda demonising Jews in the 1930s. Their populist rhetoric is clearly aimed at intimidation and inciting violence without any real concern for the welfare of their gullible supporters. Some men just want to see the world burn as the saying goes.
South African institutions are doing a crap job at protecting minorities from hate speech
The South African Human Rights Commission has done very little to provide moral clarity. It has a shocking track record of fulfilling its mandate to address human rights violations, in particular hate speech against minority groups. Take for instance, the constant racist vitriol directed at white South Africans, Asian South Africans, and pretty much any non-black African, by Jackie Shandu, a vocal EFF member.
A confused hate-filled little man, Shandu labours under the illusion that reading a few paragraphs of Sankara and Fanon has turned him into an intellectual giant and economic expert. Shandu and his ilk get away with the most foul lies and hate speech without the SAHRC lifting a finger. Check out his noxious Twitter timeline if you can stomach his moronic Pan-Africanist fascism.
Equally shocking is that so many South African media commentators (1) do not have a firm understanding of South African history and (2) are not able to address the various nuances of equitable land restitution. My only conclusion is that like the EFF/RET clowns they are playing games for their own gain; or maybe its just simple old-fashioned cowardice.
What is clear is that the rule of law is under severe pressure in South Africa, while government institutions display ongoing incompetence and bias. This frail bulwark against the bloodlust of the EFF / RET populists may not hold for much longer, with the EFF regularly acting as if it is the government of the country.
Four things can avert a violent populist revolution and limit minority persecution
Land restitution needs to be expedited in a structured, transparent manner. A difficult ask for a government and public service riddled with corruption and incompetence. Constant pressure from the courts may be the only way to drive the process.
Apartheid economic criminals have to be prosecuted and where they have already died, their wealth needs to be subject to asset forfeiture. It is the only way to give full legitimacy to South Africa’s current anti-corruption drive.
The hate speech, intimidation and false propaganda of EFF / RET members have to be addressed by human rights institutions like the SAHRC and criminal justice bodies like the National Prosecuting Authority. If they don’t want to do their job, civil society will have to lobby for sanctions and other forms of pressure to be put on both political and institutional leaders.
South Africans need to cast off the shackles of their inferiority complexes and stop voting for corrupt or incompetent political parties. If you want a better future for your children, vote for the technocrats that will keep the electricity on, the water running, the neighborhood safe, the roads clear of potholes, the hospitals working, businesses open, and steal or waste as little as possible of your taxes. You don’t have to like them, you may even think they are arrogant bigots – but who cares, as long as they deliver what they promised.
Who knows, if enough people become members of the bigoted technocrat party, those new members can eventually take over the party structures and make it less bigoted. That’s called pragmatism and thinking strategically. Only time will tell if enough South Africans have the emotional and intellectual maturity to drag the country out of its current epidemic of racial scapegoating.