On Tuesday, Parliament made the historic decision to push ahead with land reform, which would see black citizens return to areas they were once forcibly removed from. However, this would be at the expense of some current landowners, who’d be paid nothing in the process.
It’s the first time such a move has been given the go-ahead since South Africa achieved democracy in 1994.
Given the seismic nature and raw emotion of the land issue, some people are worried. The Democratic Alliance was the first to oppose the move. More recently, AfriForum ramped up their vocal criticism. They were all too happy to perpetuate the idea that Mzansi is heading for a Zimbabwe-style collapse, prompted by “land grabs”.
How is SA’s land reform different to Zimbabwe’s?
However, the two scenarios simply don’t line up. We spoke to the EFF Secretary-General, Godrich Gardee, and asked him about the “second Zimbabwe” notion. He stressed the world of differences between what’s happening here, and what happened across the border:
“Zimbabwe’s policy wasn’t land reform, it was a land grab. What we are doing is constitutional. It requires decisions taken in Parliament. It is subject to laws, and the general application of our constitution.”
“Everything that happens here will be legal, and follow procedure. It simply cannot be compared to Zimbabwe.”
Gardee also spoke about AfriForum’s promise to warn the international community about land expropriation. He also gave us his opinion on that phrase…
“AfriForum are saying they want to mobilise the international community. All they are doing is scaring investors. We will find a way to deal with their arrogance, and disrespect of our people.”
“‘Second Zimbabwe’ is just a scarecrow. It’s a punchline to scare investors, and create disunity. We remind them that Zimbabwe was a case of land grabbing. Here, it is constitutional, and completely non-anarchic.”
Analyst dismisses fears of “second Zimbabwe”
Patrick Bond is a school of governance professor at Wits University. He was on hand to explain to us why the political situations are so different between the two countries.
Back in 2000, Robert Mugabe was on the brink of losing the next election. The challenge from Morgan Tsvangirai was strong, and he needed something to keep a hold of supporters. At an accelerated rate, Mugabe ploughed ahead with the shameless land grabs.
It was an incredibly populist move, which horrified the onlooking world. But to Zimbabwe’s impoverished black community, it looked like an actual change, and enough to suppress the opposition. That’s something which Professor Bond identifies as a key difference.
“For Cyril Ramaphosa, there doesn’t seem to be an imminent threat of him losing the election next year. He’s in a strong position now, and he is not facing a Mugabe-type situation where land reform is a last-ditch attempt to consolidate power.”
Interestingly enough, Bond went on to claim that he actually didn’t think land expropriation would happen. He immediately quashed “second Zimbabwe” talk, as he stressed any reform plans are more “rhetoric than reality”:
“We’ve seen no unrest here in terms of major protests. Compare land expropriation with service delivery, and you see a difference. Service delivery is always being protested.”
“Yet that doesn’t extend to land invasions. We saw some strikes in the Western Cape back in 2013, but haven’t seen any similar attempts at land-grabbing. No-one will be actually persuaded into land reform unless we see land occupation.”
Land expropriation won’t be anything like land grabs
The talk of South Africa becoming a “second Zimbabwe” is somewhere between being extremely premature, to being a fallacy. The context for both countries is wildly different, over an 18-year gap.
Certainly, the government have the benefit of hindsight. But no-one in the ANC has suggested racing along with reform at break-neck speed. Cyril Ramaphosa has also stated he will only pursue options that will help South Africa prosper.
As an ex-farmer himself, Ramaphosa knows the damage a mismanaged expropriation programme could cause. He’s the last person looking to follow Zimbabwe’s lead.