You have to hand it to Julius Malema. He is a headline-grabber of note; he sticks rigidly to what he believes in; he delivers his popular message with such ferocity and charisma that he attracts truck-loads of adoring fans; and he knows when to say sorry.
Moreover, he has done one thing for which he should be given credit. He has taken the Establishment – political, business and other – completely out of its comfort zone by focusing on the point that radical measures have to be implemented to turn a highly unequal, exclusive, lop-sided society into something which the writers of the Freedom Charter would be proud of. For me that is common cause; but where I differ is on the tactics to get there.
Nationalisation and land grabs – with or without compensation – are dead-end policies. Nationalisation without compensation will result in sanctions being re-introduced against South Africa by the US and EU, as it will be perceived that their citizens – the ones who have invested here – will have had their assets stolen from them by the South African government. International travel restrictions on members of the Cabinet will probably be applied as well.
Nationalisation with compensation at fair value will mean that a trillion rand will have to be diverted from health, education, welfare and law and order to purchasing the targeted assets. In other words, the opportunity cost will be enormous. The only alternative is for the government to borrow the money – if they can – which will send South Africa’s national debt to GDP ratio through the roof.
Land grabs, on the other hand, will in the worst case scenario precipitate a civil war. People who sing liberation songs like “Kill the Boer” should remember that the first modern freedom-fighters were the Boers – well before Swapo, Zanu-PF and the ANC. They effectively held the British imperialists at bay for the first half of the Boer War at the turn of the previous century. It was only when Kitchener introduced concentration camps and herded their women and children into them with an absolutely appalling loss of life, that the war turned in Britain’s favour.
Neither being a pariah or highly indebted state in the case of nationalisation nor being a country riven by civil war in the case of land grabs will sort out the problems of unemployment and living on desolation row. The only way the problem can begin to be resolved is to follow the philosophy of Steve Biko, an equally charismatic character, who before he was cruelly murdered in the 1970s basically expressed the view that handouts do not improve your self-esteem: doing it for yourself does. That is as true today – in the world of Facebook and Twitter which have enormously increased the power and freedom of individuals – as when he said it in the 1970s.
So if I were Julius, I would take Steve’s ideas on board because they are so much more inspirational and relevant to the members of Generation Y than the old-fashioned and discredited policies that the state should become the centre of everything. I say this coming from a family in the UK where my socialist ancestors not only wrote nationalisation into the Labour Party constitution (Beatrice Webb), but actually implemented it across the board (Stafford Cripps who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late 1940s and made Julius look positively unambitious by comparison). Needless to say, everything is back in the hands of the private sector apart from the National Health Service which in retrospect was a worthwhile initiative.
Rather than trying to destroy Malema, I would urge him to consider redirecting his energy down the path outlined by Steve Biko. I would be asking him actively to engage with Business Leadership SA and AgriSA as to how a more inclusive and participative economy can be created and how one can transfer an appropriate proportion of land from white to black farmers without diminishing agricultural productivity. All of this will take time. It cannot happen overnight in one quantum leap. Perhaps he and his colleagues in ANCYL should also go on a leadership programme at GIBS. Get out of the confines of the ANC into the real world.
Furthermore, instead of harping on about expropriation of this or that asset which will not create one extra job for the youth of this country, I would like Julius to change his pitch and demand three things:
- We raise the quality of education in this country to give young people the power to do their own thing;
- We provide the entrepreneurial space in this country so that young people have the freedom to do their own thing; and
- We celebrate South African pockets of excellence like Siyabulela Xuza (who has a minor planet named after him by NASA) in order to give young people the confidence to do their own thing.
That is just so much more funky a vision than having everyone work for the state or be dependent on the state. As Michelle Obama said a few days ago at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto: “You are your own liberator.” Amen.