By Tau Tawengwa
According to reports, the forever feisty Julius Malema recently lashed out at President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Johannesburg, describing him as a “sellout” for his plans to pay compensation to white farmers whose land was forcibly expropriated by Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF government led by former President Robert Mugabe nearly two decades ago.
Apparently addressing the media at his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party headquarters in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Malema said Zimbabwe was still full of poverty and could not afford basic things like primary healthcare, proper education and infrastructure.
“It’s a sellout position taking money to people who don’t deserve it,” he said.
Malema apparently also warned Mnangagwa that the people of Zimbabwe would soon turn on him.
“Anyone who compensates them for stolen land is a sellout. Anyone who compensates for the expropriation of land is a sellout,” he charged.
Now to the undiscerning ear, Malema may have a point given Africa’s history of colonial oppression and land dispossession by European settlers.
However here is why I think Malema’s comments are inappropriate and perhaps even in bad taste.
Firstly Malema himself is no socialist- he is a capitalist. In fact he reportedly drives a 1.2million rand car (among many others).
Furthermore, it appears that he procured his impressive fleet of vehicles through years of “tenderpreneuring” using various entities that he owns such as Segwalo Consulting Engineers CC (through which he received 10% commission on the value of each tender given to Segwalo Consulting Engineers), Ngape Mining Investment, and the infamous Ratanang family trust.
As a result of his effective career as a tenderpreneur, he reportedly owns these properties: a house in Flora Park; a house in Sandown worth 3.6 million rand; his Sandown home worth 8.5 million rand; and ironically two farms that he bought in 2009 and 2011 for 9 million rand.
The point is that all and sundry need to understand that Julius Malema is a property owner- a landlord- and therefore he automatically becomes interested in the protection of his private property rights.
If he is interested in property rights, he automatically becomes a capitalist. He is NOT a socialist.
If anything, all the noise that he makes around the issue of “land expropriation without compensation” is part of a very dangerous populist political game that he is playing alongside his sponsors in the ANC.
Oh yes, for those who are not in the know, it has long been held that Julius Malema and the EFF are a project of Cyril Ramaphosa and the anti-Jacob Zuma faction in the ANC… but those are matters for another day.
The critical point I want to make here is that Zimbabwe’s economic problems since 2000 have been, and will always be centered on the issue of property rights.
While the populist program of “land expropriation without compensation” may seem and sound like the right path- it is in fact regressive and dangerous.
I know, because I am one of many who witnessed Zimbabwe’s land reform programme first hand.
When Robert Mugabe’s land reform began in 2000, I was in my final high school year, In the middle of which many of my white friends had their farms invaded, often violently.
At the time, Robert Mugabe’s populism around land reform sounded a lot like Julius Malema’s rants today, and as a result many landless black Zimbabweans were deceived into believing that land reform without compensation would do more good than harm for Zimbabwe.
Unfortunately, the opposite has proven to be true.
20 years down the line the writing is on the wall- Zimbabwe is desperate for a financial bailout, millions of citizens have left the country (some even to work on farms in neighboring countries), and today, in 2019 Zimbabweans are still emigrating for economic reasons.
All in all the legacy of Zimbabwe’s post 2000 land reform programme comprises of a battered economy, separated families, mass-emigration and trauma.
While some beneficiaries of land reform have indeed managed to make good use of resettled land, it is also true that many in fact have not, and a sizeable proportion of Zimbabwe’s agricultural land remains underutilized- the land audit currently underway will soon reveal this.
Nevertheless, I must unequivocally state that President Emmerson Mnagwagwa’s decision to compensate former farmers for their improvements on their former farms is correct and necessary.
The fact is that the very institutions that Zimbabwe is seeking for bailout funds from (particularly the IMF and World Bank) are essentially capitalist institutions that consider the principle of protection of private property rights as pivotal, and no amount of populist politicking will change that.
In that light I commend President Mnangagwa for his course of action concerning compensation of former farmers. It is the right thing to do.
If Zimbabwe had taken the same approach in 2000 instead of the “forcible acquisitions” route, our economic condition would have been different today.
In short Zimbabwe’s decision to compensate former farmers for land as well as the developments thereon is 20 years overdue.
It is also the result of the realization that there are no free lunches in the contemporary global economy.
As long as Julius Malema’s EFF, the ANC and South Africa as a whole continue on the dangerous path of “land expropriation without compensation” , they too will eventually come to realize that nothing is for free… you WILL pay for what you take… even if that realization takes 20 years.
Tau Tawengwa is a political analyst and researcher based in Harare.
He can be reached on www.zimrays.org, [email protected]