UJ’s Bhaso Ndzendze says SA land reform is a foreign policy issue


UJ’s Bhaso Ndzendze says SA land reform is a foreign policy issue


Publishing Date: 3/7/2018 11:00 AM

Long before the ink recording Parliament`s overwhelming vote in favour of a constitutional review of the expropri- ation of land without compensation even dried in the registry, a slew of commentary emerged presaging the prospects of widespread disinvestment in the country by the international community, writes UJ's Bhaso Ndzedze.

Bhaso Ndzendze, a UJ Research Assistant at the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute, penned an opinion piece entitled "SA land reform is a foreign policy issue", published in Sunday Independent Dispatch, 4 March 2018.

Many drew parallels to the experience of Zimbabwe, which had a foray down this path in the early 2000s. These comparisons capture some essence of the truth. Not only did Zimbabwe suffer disinvestment upon the controversial decision, but the country was also placed into a straitjacket by a litany of sanctions which contributed to its economic downturn.

The land question is fundamentally a foreign policy question, then. This is true of many policy issues - but the one of land has a pressing relevance and immediacy for it is the country`s Achilles heel. All four of South Africa`s births and rebirths (1652, 1910, 1948 and 1994) have revolved around this issue; and each time the familiar balance of power has been maintained.

An upset to this balance, therefore, is a direct upset to the very source code of what South Africa has been known to be by the financier world since 1994. One of the greatest ironies about foreign direct investment has to be the sharp roundabout in its appraisal; from being shunned and even suspected in the early 20th century, to being relished and desired by its LONG before the ink recording Parliament`s overwhelming vote in favour of a constitutional review of the expropri- ation of land without compensation even dried in the registry, a slew of commentary emerged presaging the prospects of widespread disinvestment in the country by the international community. Many drew parallels to the experience of Zimbabwe, which had a foray down this path in the early 2000s. These comparisons capture some essence of the truth. Not only did Zimbabwe suffer disinvestment upon the controversial decision, but the country was also placed into a straitjacket by a litany of sanctions which contributed to its economic downturn. The land question is fundamentally a foreign policy question, then. This is true of many policy issues - but the one of land has a pressing relevance and immediacy for it is the country`s Achilles heel. All four of South Africa`s births and rebirths (1652, 1910, 1948 and 1994) have revolved around this issue; and each time the familiar balance of power has been maintained. An upset to this balance, therefore, is a direct upset to the very source code of what South Africa has been known to be by the financier world since 1994. One of the greatest ironies about foreign direct investment has to be the sharp roundabout in its appraisal; from being shunned and even suspected in the early 20th century, to being relished and desired by its LONG before the ink recording Parliament`s overwhelming vote in favour of a constitutional review of the expropri- ation of land without compensation even dried in the registry, a slew of commentary emerged presaging the prospects of widespread disinvestment in the country by the international community. Many drew parallels to the experience of Zimbabwe, which had a foray down this path in the early 2000s. These comparisons capture some essence of the truth. Not only did Zimbabwe suffer disinvestment upon the controversial decision, but the country was also placed into a straitjacket by a litany of sanctions which contributed to its economic downturn. The land question is fundamentally a foreign policy question, then. This is true of many policy issues - but the one of land has a pressing relevance and immediacy for it is the country`s Achilles heel. All four of South Africa`s births and rebirths (1652, 1910, 1948 and 1994) have revolved around this issue; and each time the familiar balance of power has been maintained. An upset to this balance, therefore, is a direct upset to the very source code of what South Africa has been known to be by the financier world since 1994. One of the greatest ironies about foreign direct investment has to be the sharp roundabout in its appraisal; from being shunned and even suspected in the early 20th century, to being relished and desired by its second half. Nowadays countries bend over backwards, and are at each other`s throats, in a bid to attract the next big multinational.

Even the most ardent advocates of expropriation of land without compensation are cognisant of the prospect of an international backlash at the behest of stability- craving investors, if not vested neo-colonial powers. In this conversation, however, much of the attention tends to turn towards the global north, especially Britain as well as the EU along with the US.

But since 2009, these players have been slowly being matched and in some instances eclipsed by the People`s Republic of China as the pre-eminent external power in the country. China cannot be scripted out of the equation. Trade between the two Brics partners totals more than R100 billion. There are around 150 Chinese corporations in South Africa, employing up to 30 000 people. China`s self-proclaimed posture on the domestic political affairs of other countries is that of non-interference.

It would be naive, however, to foresee no response from Beijing. The market does not function that way, and no political change is received as mere banality. What the international financial world has admired most about South Africa is its stability, or at least its pervading presence in business affairs. This is why countries with much lower taxes such as Liberia and Lesotho (the current record-holder for the lowest out of the equation. Trade between the two Brics partners totals more than R100 billion. There are around 150 Chinese corporations in South Africa, employing up to 30 000 people. China`s self-proclaimed posture on the domestic political affairs of other countries is that of non-interference. It would be naive, however, to foresee no response from Beijing. The market does not function that way, and no political change is received as mere banality. What the international financial world has admired most about South Africa is its stability, or at least its pervading presence in business affairs. This is why countries with much lower taxes such as Liberia and Lesotho (the current record-holder for the lowest tax in Africa) have not outdone South Africa - they are deemed far too unpredictable to return on investment.

China is no exception in this regard. China is most comfortable when stability is guaranteed and secured. Decades of upheaval, war and revolution have bred a state of contempt for Juan (disorder). It has been the People`s Republic which has been a leader in peacekeeping in the continent, in Liberia, Sudan, the DRC, and has placed a military base in the volatile Horn of Africa region. It was also China that was the first to reach out to the new Zimbabwean government, and rewarded its declared respect of property rights with a R2 billion loan within weeks of Emmerson tax in Africa) have not outdone South Africa - they are deemed far too unpredictable to return on investment. China is no exception in this regard. China is most comfortable when stability is guaranteed and secured. Decades of upheaval, war and revolution have bred a state of contempt for Juan (disorder). It has been the People`s Republic which has been a leader in peacekeeping in the continent, in Liberia, Sudan, the DRC, and has placed a military base in the volatile Horn of Africa region. It was also China that was the first to reach out to the new Zimbabwean government, and rewarded its declared respect of property rights with a R2 billion loan within weeks of Emmerson Mnangagwa being sworn in as president. It is also China which is seeking to do away with presidential term limits.

The relationship between Pretoria and Beijing will be turning 20 this year. From the beginning, it was a commercial one. In an eerily reminiscent turn of events, the decision by Nelson Mandela to switch diplomatic relations in 1998 from Taiwan to China was partially motivated by one of China`s own land questions - particularly the port city of Hong Kong, which was to be returned by Britain in 1997, following the expiration of a war- derived `lease`.

Since then, South Africa`s trade relationship with China has risen to meteoric heights. But some die-hard protectionists, among them Cosatu, make the assertion that there has been a clear and undisputable winner despite claims of `win-win`. Tests to the relationship have come and gone, but none of this magnitude. If expropriation of land is to take place, what is to be the fate of commercial operations owned by Chinese enterprises?

What, also, is to be the fate of the special economic zones (SEZs) such as the Coega IDZ (Eastern Cape) which in 2016 signed a Rllbn deal with a Chinese carmaker, the Richards Bay IDZ (KwaZulu- Natal) over which the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Guangdong signed a memorandum of understanding in the same year?

 And likewise, does expropriation protectionists, among them Cosatu, make the assertion that there has been a clear and undisputable winner despite claims of `win-win`. Tests to the relationship have come and gone, but none of this magnitude. If expropriation of land is to take place, what is to be the fate of commercial operations owned by Chinese enterprises? What, also, is to be the fate of the special economic zones (SEZs) such as the Coega IDZ (Eastern Cape) which in 2016 signed a Rllbn deal with a Chinese carmaker, the Richards Bay IDZ (KwaZulu- Natal) over which the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Guangdong signed a memorandum of understanding in the same year?

And likewise, does expropriation entail nationalisation of mining operations? And if the answer to either of these is in the affirmative, is there to be a `grace period`? Do Chinese South Africans (the largest Chinese diaspora on the continent) qualify to keep their land?

The ANC and EFF should work more on a clear plan and strategy of selling the land reform programme to foreign investors. Restoring the dignity of those forcefully removed from their land should be handled with great sensitivity and care.

*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg


Bhaso Ndzendze