Three-quarters-of-a-million people made written submissions to parliament’s review committee that is examining whether the constitution should be changed to facilitate expropriation of land without compensation.
Yet only one person has received public assurance that his wishes will be granted. Such is our democracy where everyone is equal, including the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, tokoloshe and Father Christmas.
We are witnessing fake democracy: authorities allow people to have their say, and then ignore them.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s genuflection before an unelected king is a triple betrayal. It undermines the constitution that Ramaphosa steered through parliament in 1996. It devalues the work of the current review committee. And it rubbishes the report of a high-level panel set up in 2016, to look into many issues, including land reform.
Chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe, the high-level panel found that, “the Ingonyama Trust Board has control over land in ways that far surpass anything the minister of rural development and land reform has in all other provinces”. The panel proposed that the Ingonyama Trust Act be repealed or amended.
There was no uproar when the report was handed over in November last year. Rumblings began in May this year, when Motlanthe told an ANC land summit that the majority of traditional leaders act like “village tin-pot dictators”. There are 840 traditional councils in South Africa. Lots of tin pots.
At the same gathering, Motlanthe told of how the trust had led to some people being dispossessed. They now have to lease land.
Collecting rents, the trust made R96 million in the 2015/16 financial year. It is a money-spinner for sole trustee King Goodwill Zwelithini. In addition, he and his household receive more than R60 million a year from the public purse.
Any attempt to tamper with the trust would affect Zwelithini’s bank balance. This may have precipitated his outburst last week, which triggered hasty reaction from the president.
Ramaphosa, whose political standing in KwaZulu-Natal remains under constant threat from supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, felt that he and the ANC could not lose any more votes in the populous province ahead of the 2019 elections.
Yet his assurance that the trust was safe, and the government would not target the 13% of the land held by traditional leaders, could be the death knell for the expropriation campaign.
Some would argue that the 13% versus 87% is code for black-owned versus white-owned. Yet, even if that racial characterisation is incorrect, it would surely be unconstitutional to exempt unelected leaders from expropriation simply because they hold sway over what Ramaphosa calls “our people”.
Equality is prescribed in the constitution, including sections 9 and 195. Subservience to unelected leaders is incompatible with equality.
People who are compelled to live under conditions imposed by the Ingonyama Trust can never own that land. They have no title deeds.
Neither Ramaphosa, nor the ANC, nor Zwelithini should be allowed to condemn millions to eternal poverty. It screams injustice.
Featured image: Cyril Ramaphosa kneeling before King Goodwill Zwelithini in a photo the Presidency said on Tuesday night was taken before he became president. Picture: Social media