[Opinion] Differences and similarities between South Africa and Zimbabwe

 

The land debate has created a new fear of economic collapse and ruin and all we hear about these days is how South Africa is on its way to becoming the ‘next Zimbabwe’; an inflationary crisis-prone country, with food and fuel shortages, power outages and not to mentions western sanctions.

While there are similarities, like the struggle for freedom from minority rule, a highly unequal society and the on-going land debate, it’s the differences that prevent South Africa from becoming a Zimbabwe-like country.

The difference of having the late Tata Nelson Mandela as the first democratically-elected President, who in his single term in office put reconciliation and peace for all South Africans at the forefront. While former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who had good intentions but was corrupted by power, couldn’t truly deliver democracy for his people.

However, Patrick Bond, a Professor of Political Economy who combines political economy and political ecology at the Wits School of Governance believes that in February 2000, Mugabe’s regime was seen as “hopelessly corrupt and repressive” after 20 years in power.

Says Bond: “His constitutional amendment proposal was rejected by the people, after a strong lobby from civil society – the National Constitutional Assembly – and the newly formed opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. That meant Mugabe amplified the talk-left, walk-right politics of populism, and authorised land invasions, because he worried he’d lose power to the MDC in the June 2000 parliamentary elections.”

South Africa today is a totally different position than Zimbabwe was when it initiated its land policy. SA makes out part of international bodies that we have to comply with, like the International Criminal Court (ICC), a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Council.

South Africa internally still has many checks and balances that the government and ruling party must adhere to. The Constitution remains an important part of the debate; no political party in South Africa has yet spoken about land reform without mentioning the constitution, which means it still at the centre of the South African democracy.

South Africa also has a large assortment of institutions, being civil, financial or academic, who has a strong interest in land expropriation without compensation, like Agri-Forum and the Land bank.

There is the belief that the South African government is very centered in its approach to land reform, with President Cyril Ramaphosa affirming that he won’t allow land expropriation without compensation effect food security and economic stability.

President Ramaphosa, in his parliamentary question and answer session on Wednesday told members of parliament that his goal is to find a balance between those without land and those who own the land.

Perhaps South Africa has the added benefit of viewing how Zimbabwe handled its land policy, its shortcomings and the major problems it created by doing things the wrong way.

But according to Bond, South Africa is yet to reach the stage of “ruling party delegimitisation and civil society counter-power”. He adds: “So Ramaphosa is not really desperate to deal with a genuine leftwing challenge the way Mugabe had to, with his populist ‘jambanja’ (chaotic) land reform. But he is dealing with left-populist challenges to his rule within the ANC and also from the EFF. The crucial ingredients that allow him the space to talk-left, walk-right on land reform in South Africa are a weak, divided and atomised civil society, and the lack of a strong opposition party capable of winning power. Maybe those ingredients will change, however.”

Not only is South Africa approaching the land reform matter the right way, it is being handled responsibly too, through open dialogue, and with the consideration of the economic impact it may have – whether negative or positive for South African citizens.

On the other hand, Bond believes that South Africa is yet to reach the stage of “ruling party delegimitisation and civil society counter-power”. He adds: “Ramaphosa is not really desperate to deal with a genuine leftwing challenge the way Mugabe had to, with his populist ‘jambanja’ (chaotic) land reform. But he is dealing with left-populist challenges to his rule within the ANC and also from the EFF. The crucial ingredients that allow him the space to talk-left, walk-right on land reform in South Africa are a weak, divided and atomised civil society, and the lack of a strong opposition party capable of winning power. Maybe those ingredients will change, however.”

 

By Mokgethi Mtezuka’

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