Be careful President Ramaphosa, the world is watching!

Front Nasionaal SA

Be careful President Ramaphosa, the world is watching!
Be careful President Ramaphosa, the world is watching!

One thing that has changed since the ANC’s takeover of power in 1994 is the sharp focus of the searchlight now shining on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s South Africa. The world is watching our every move as previous expectations about the much-heralded African democracy are now morphing into a muggy fog of disappointment and frustration. Well-meaning advice from all quarters is pointedly ignored as the government’s warped ideology and revolutionary populism based on nothing more than sundry platitudes and seductive slogans infect the lungs and heart of a once-thriving state at the tip of a very dismal continent.

Land has always been a convenient scapegoat to deflect attention from the government’s shortcomings. It’s an easy vote getter – it appeals to millions in South Africa whose heritage has been to cultivate a piece of ground where some corn and greens can be grown without too much looking after, and where a few cows can provide milk and meat. This may have been the answer a century or two ago, but it’s a very dangerous election panacea now. With a citizenry purportedly topping 58 million (although nobody really knows SA’s actual population figures), and with the total inability of the government to provide jobs for even a miniscule number of the unemployed, it is the commercial farming industry that has absorbed hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers. These mostly cannot find work anywhere else, at least work with the same security they have on farms such as a family dwelling, regular meals, basic medical care and in most cases, schooling for their children.

One would assume this would be the last industry in South Africa the ruling party would target with punitive legislation and other aggravating measures, but the government’s behaviour so far has resulted in commercial farming in South Africa being under constant stress. Now farmers are faced with property expropriation without compensation (EWC), which pointedly aims at productive farms although this is not officially declared.

The government’s ability to shoot itself in the foot is stunning: to justify his EWC policy, the president constituted an advisory panel to provide him with a report on land reform. This long awaited document appeared at the end of July this year, compiled by a presidential hand-picked group. The committee’s conclusions were predictable, and they are a recipe for disaster. The panel gave the president what he needed. TLU SA was not invited on to the advisory committee. Two commercial farmers on the panel were so stunned at the final report that they submitted their own summary.

GRAVE CONCERN

TAU SA was deeply concerned at the contents of the government’s document.. “They are allowing themselves to be led by the noses by the masses without considering the long term impact the report will have on South Africa”, said Louis Meintjes, TAU SA president. And, more pointedly, “who spoke for the farmers who were not represented on the panel?”, Meintjes asked.
“The process is not economically driven and will lead to a state-controlled environment where the initiative of entrepreneurs and investors is suffocated”, declared the TAU SA president. “It is nothing more than the legal hijacking of the land by the ANC elite.” The report focused mainly on farms for expropriation, yet 67% of SA’s population is urbanised. Housing and services are more urgent than farms for many people who can’t farm and who don’t want to farm.

SA’s commercial farmers – 35 000 of them – provide food for 58 million people. No other group in the country can come anywhere near that achievement. More than 95% of productive farms already handed over to government beneficiaries have failed, and those still in production are usually managed by an appointed mentor.
“So when the land is redistributed, what happens then, Mr. Ramaphosa?” asks TAU SA. Collapse is inevitable and then who will feed the millions – the ANC? The ANC has done nothing for South Africa except use other people’s money to buy support. Its legacy is misery, corruption, incompetence and the reduction of the South African economy to junk status. But government self-delusion is a powerful opiate, hence the reckless pursuit of taking land without compensation.

But government beware! Everyone is watching. Economies are interconnected, and what happens here goes around the world in a flash. Recent warnings by European governments in the form of personal letters to the SA president have gone unheeded. SA has run out of money. Billions have been squandered. Government bodies cannot pay salaries. Municipalities are under administration. Infrastructure is crumbling. Our railways aren’t up to par so 80% of the country’s transport is by truck, which vehicles are regularly set alight on our main roads by frustrated SA workers who object to the hiring of foreign drivers!

THE AFRICAN GROWTH AND OPPORTUNITY ACT (AGOA)

How does AGOA fit into this scenario? AGOA was signed into law by US President Clinton in May 2000 with the objective of expanding US trade and investment with sub-Saharan Africa to encourage economic integration and to formalise trade preferences to allow AGOA-eligible countries to enter the US market duty free.
The US Congress requires the US president to determine annually whether these sub-Saharan countries are eligible for AGOA benefits based on progress in meeting certain eligibility criteria. Section 104 of the AGOA Act, Clause (1) (a) states that a country is eligible to be a member of AGOA if it “has established or is making continual progress towards establishing a market based economy that protects private property rights”. President Trump’s White House is aware of the SA government’s plans to expropriate SA private property without compensation. He has been visited by various SA groups who have informed him of this scenario, and in 2018 he tweeted that he had told his secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to closely study South African land and farm seizures”.
Statements by the former Trade and Industry minister Rob Davies in 2018 that “US officials have made no link between SA’s plans to expropriate land without compensation (EWC) and SA’s access to trade benefits” must be taken with a pinch of salt. He declared that his department had explained “the transparent and responsible approach that will be followed in decision making” with regard to EWC.

There is absolutely no reason why the US officials should have believed Mr. Davies then, or his replacement now. The SA government cannot be trusted. It is dishonest and corrupt. Indeed there is no evidence to support the fact that if the SA government implements its EWC plan, South Africa will be no different from Zimbabwe whose economy collapsed after white farms were stolen by Robert Mugabe’s government. Why would it be different here? Who will feed 58 million people? Has Mr. Ramaphosa set aside a replacement force to take over this huge task? Not at all. He’s talking to the mob in order to ward off the radical EFF party breathing down his neck. The president is trying to keep his job. He is between a rock and a hard place.

A CRITICAL RESOURCE

The fact that land throughout the world (and especially in South Africa) is under threat seems to have eluded the president. Mr. Ramaphosa has just come back from Tanzania where he must have noticed the low standard of living, where 70% of the population is still involved in subsistence farming (average size of plot around 2,5 ha). In pre-independence times the country was the world’s largest producer of sisal. Only 33% of Tanzania’s land is currently cultivated, yet 6% of the country’s surface area consists of fresh water lakes.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) said in Geneva last year that roughly 500 million people live in areas that experience desertification. “There is an increase in risks from dry land water scarcity and climate change is affecting food security”, declared the IPCC. “There should be an overall focus on food sustainability.”

Clearly this report and others of its type are in File 13 in one of SA’s government departments because South Africa is at dire risk according to this report. Only 12% of SA’s surface land is arable, and only one percent is irrigated.

ECONOMY

In the meantime SA’s economy stumbles on in fits and starts. Corruption and theft have left the cupboard bare. “Had Jacob Zuma or Ace Magashule (general secretary of the ANC) been Chinese politicians they would have been executed for corruption years ago.” ( Peter Bruce Sunday Times 11.8.19).
Business Unity SA (BUSA) says runaway government debt now poses the risk “of taking us all down”. (Business Day 5.8.19) “Unless government itself acted to cut government spending, it would be forced into an austerity programme by the IMF when private lenders turned their backs on the country” declared BUSA president Sipho Pityana.

Ah, the IMF, the bogeyman of international finance. The organisation looms large on the SA horizon. The IMF’s record of destabilising countries via its austerity policies is well known – Argentina, Egypt, Greece, to name a few. It is the lender of last resort for badly-run countries. It cracks the whip in no uncertain terms. Mr. Ramaphosa’s erstwhile friend China appears to be ready to run for the hills before handing over cash to the ANC government. “It is a prudent and cautious player in world finance and would not be seen dead bailing out a country that cannot deal with its own realities”. (Peter Bruce, Sunday Times 11.8.19)
Perhaps because of China’s hesitance, president Ramaphosa is secretly wishing for the IMF to step in. The organisation would apply its tough austerity regulations without fear or favour, and many of the ANC’s friends and colleagues may be shown the door – the trade unions, the bloated civil service, the incompetent narcissists at the country’s bankrupt parastatals. The IMF would curtail the expensive overseas trips, the tender processes that have been so close to the governing elite’s hearts, and the curbing of further hiring. Competent technocrats would be brought in to straighten things out, and there would be insistence that in the future, only efficient people would be permitted to be employed in the country’s crucial sectors. Mr. Ramaphosa could blame the IMF for policies he hasn’t the courage to implement himself.

What a disaster for the ruling party! Who would survive this massacre? Who cares who would survive as long as poor South Africa gets a second chance under the stewardship of some competent, honest and dedicated citizens.

The ANC would have met its Waterloo, and there would be sighs of relief all round. Could it happen? When the money runs out for the monthly funding of the 18 million welfare recipients, when the civil service isn’t paid, when the hospitals run out of medicines, the service stations out of petrol and the farmers are unable to produce to their optimum because of worker unrest, sky high input costs and limited transport to get to market, will the IMF be the panacea, or will the president and his profligate party plunder the pension funds?
Something must happen, but if the president chooses the pension funds as his last remaining piggy bank, all bets are off. One way or another, South Africa must return to economic sanity. There are too many competent, intelligent and honest people in the land who are ready to take up the cudgels. Let us encourage them to do so.

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