ANC wanders into uncharted territory with announcements on land but no coherent policy
There were several reasons for President Cyril Ramaphosa's late-night statement on Tuesday in which he declared that the ANC would finalise a proposed amendment to the constitution to allow for expropriation of land without compensation.
It was apparently the overwhelming view of those attending the ANC's two-day national executive committee (NEC) lekgotla that the party yield to popular sentiment that the constitution be "more explicit" about expropriation without compensation.
Unlike at the ANC's 54th national conference in December and land summit in May, there were no misgivings or dissenting views about the implications of tinkering with section 25 of the constitution, which deals with property rights.The public hearings on the land question and the ANC's internal polling provided irrefutable evidence that the majority of people were in favour of an amendment.
According to NEC members, it was decided that an announcement of this magnitude could not be delivered through the usual channels and that the president should inform the nation.
Ramaphosa's allies actually suggested this to avoid ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who is constitutionally empowered to communicate decisions of the NEC, delivering the message. They were concerned Magashule might be too radical or even clumsy in articulating the decision, provoking panic in the country and the markets.Ramaphosa's supporters were also worried about perceptions in the ANC that the president was not taking ownership of the Nasrec resolutions, and that his detractors were using this to motivate for an early national general council. On the land issue in particular, Ramaphosa had been walking on eggshells and he was advised to take a bolder stance.
The desire for more candour was largely motivated by the EFF championing the constitutional amendment and fears it would own the issue on the election trail. The ANC had to seize the moment, even if it undermined the parliamentary process.
It was not intended to be a late-night statement, but scripting it, and the logistics to record it, took longer than expected.
It is unprecedented for the ANC president to address the nation, so there was also some confusion among the ANC's media team and Ramaphosa's staff about how to pull this off.
Reminiscent of the Zuma years, the recording was eventually broadcast after 10pm, more than six hours after the ANC tweeted that Ramaphosa would address the nation on land redistribution and a stimulus package for jobs and economic growth. There was no real announcement on a stimulus, just an indication that something of the sort would be coming.Ramaphosa's land announcement might give his opponents less traction, but it does not catapult the ANC into pole position on land.
The ANC policy conference in July 2017 had exactly the opposite position on land to what emerged from the national conference in December. While it was announced at the Nasrec conference that the incoming NEC was mandated to look into amending the constitution to speed up land redistribution, the final conference report does not articulate it in this way.
The report captured the resolution as: "Expropriation of land without compensation should be among the key mechanisms available to government to give effect to land reform and redistribution." It does not mention the constitution.
In May, the ANC held a land summit to canvass the views of its structures, allies, NGOs, lawyers, economists, activists and farmers.
The workshop recommended that the ANC make a submission to parliament's constitutional review panel based on the conference resolution. It also mapped out the way forward. Section 25 should be used to press ahead with the expropriation of land "in order to test the argument that the constitution does permit expropriation without compensation in certain circumstances".The workshop said the Expropriation Bill and land redistribution bill should be passed, and advised that the constitutional review process be used to bring greater clarity to the property section of the constitution "if it is found that the current legal formulations impede or slow down effective land redistribution".
Almost as an afterthought, the statement said: "The workshop proposed that the ANC proceed to affirm the amendment of section 25 (2) (b) to immediately effect the principle of expropriation without compensation for public purpose and interest."
On Tuesday, Ramaphosa sounded categorical: "The ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected."
It remains to be seen how exactly the ANC will phrase the amendment and whether it will follow through on the other land summit recommendations.
The ANC's big problem is that it does not have a lucid policy on land, just a series of decisions taken at various meetings.
The land question could turn out to be SA's Brexit if the ANC continues to chase votes without a coherent policy position and game plan.
Considering how bad the ANC is at implementation even when there are clear policies, imagine what lies ahead where none exist and the goalposts are constantly shifting...
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