Right of response to Adriaan Basson: Don't overlook arbitrary power abuses - News24

22 August 2018 - Basson’s deepest mistake is considering the department of land reform as typically credible and rational at present, with corruption and deceit a mere possibility for the future.

Gabriel Crouse

In the recent News24 piece, "Truth the biggest loser in land expropriation debate" (20 August), the editor-in-chief puts himself in Obama’s shoes to remind us how important it is to talk straight when it comes to expropriation without compensation.

Adriaan Basson targeted the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, AfriForum and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). He sent them all up with the punchline what they say just ain’t so, elevating himself somewhat above the fray.

Basson’s problem with AfriForum is that the union released a list of farms for expropriation without compensation. He denies the list was generated by the state because the state, in the person of land reform minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, denies that it generated this particular list. Or any list at all. The second part of the denial is self-defeating. The ministry had been developing a list of farms for expropriation without compensation, a fact we all know for the simple reason that, a week before, the minister said so. The minister doth protest too much.

In defending the minister’s absurd volte face, Basson protests too much too. He writes as if it would be immoral to publish the list even if, as the IRR has independently verified, it was genuinely produced by the state. He says that publishing this list "endangered the lives and livelihoods" of those on it. It reminds one of the old Soviet line that the state would be perfectly efficient and humane if only everyone agreed to say so.

Basson’s argument is seriously distressing. He anticipates negative consequences for those on the list by shifting the blame away from potential dispossessors onto those who raised the alarm on behalf of targets of dispossession.

He also obstructs the opportunity for South Africans to rally together, in civil harmony, to defend their fellow citizens targeted for arbitrary expropriation by the state. This is the intention behind leaking and publishing the list that Basson forecloses.

Basson is the chief editor of News24 and his words must be weighted accordingly. They signal not only to the whistleblower who approached AfriForum but to all potential whistleblowers that they better stay quiet for three reasons. First, they will lack all credibility as long as they insist on anonymity. Second, they will be blamed for any negative consequences to others for blowing the whistle even if those consequences were inevitable. Third, they will be called liars as long as the state denies the leak’s veracity, even if that denial comes in the form of a demonstrable lie.

Consider further Nkoana-Mashabane’s reason for suddenly claiming that her department was not in the business of earmarking targets for EWC, despite this being official policy shortly before. "The parliamentary process of consultations by the Constitutional Review Committee on the review of Section 25 [of the Constitution] is still in process," she said. Any list, she insists, would undermine the consultation process.

Taking Nkoana-Mashabane seriously in this regard is impossible considering that around the time she said this, her department was earmarking test cases for expropriation without compensation. President Cyril Ramaphosa further undermined the credibility of these public hearings by endorsing expropriation without compensation and a constitutional amendment before "consultations" concluded.

What the ANC and state president had to lose by waiting a few weeks I cannot say, but he injected a sudden urgency felt most sharply by loyal ANC cadres.

The land debate has dominated public discourse during Ramaphosa’s initiation into the Presidency. Despite all claims that the debate is inescapably emotional, its essential nature has been abstract. This has suited expropriation without compensation proponents. As long as "white monopoly capital" remained the target of expropriation without compensation rather than any particular property owners, the corruption of this country’s private property regime could be cast as victimless at the level of flesh and blood individuals.

The trouble with this strategy is that it entails dangling an abstract carrot before EFF leaders who yearn to get something for nothing from ANC appeasers. Abstract carrots don’t satisfy the appetite quite like the real thing. So, while I cannot say why Ramaphosa and Nkoana-Mashabane chose to collapse the abstract idea of theoretical expropriation without compensation into a concrete plan of action in early August, it is perfectly clear that such a move was inevitable.

Basson is of the view that any list emerging from this process of collapsing the abstract into the concrete would only be credible if the state officially confirmed it and if its contents were rational. The thought that officials would arbitrarily choose properties to be arbitrarily expropriated is beyond Basson’s reckoning.

But not mine, for the particular reason that in a tour of KZN I reported cases of state land being arbitrarily given to kleptocrats and nepotists, cases where poor black citizens have been arbitrarily denied recapitalisation grants alongside allegations that rich ANC connections loot the land reform purse. I reported a case where black citizens were effective victims of expropriation without compensation; Setume Stone told a similar (personally experienced) story on News24 days ago. Other reasons to doubt the state include Esidimeni, Marikana, and Zupta state capture.

Basson’s deepest mistake is considering the department of land reform as typically credible and rational at present, with corruption and deceit a mere possibility for the future. He wrote another recent piece in which he asked himself if SA was the next Zim, to which he was able to answer no until just the other day.

In fact, SA is already Zimbabwe, at least a significant rural portion is, where 17 million desperate citizens are denied the title deeds or leases that are necessary to make investing in their own homes expedient and financially rewarding. The unemployment level in the former Bantustans is surely close to Zimbabwe’s. In both countrysides, people dream of getting into the big cities to find work or else survive on welfare provided by the state and global aid respectively. This is the domain over which the department of land reform presides. Overlooking the arbitrary power abuses in this domain has been the ANC’s failure. Basson’s too.

- Crouse is a writer commissioned by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.