Pollak: The Right Is Getting South Africa’s Land Crisis Wrong

Julius Malema supporters (Wikus de Wet / AFP / Getty)
Wikus de Wet / AFP / Getty

Conservative media are closely following South Africa’s new effort to amend its constitution to allow the government to expropriate land without compensation.

Many outlets have portrayed the policy as a “white genocide,” or an attempt to push white farmers off the land — through violence if necessary.

On Tuesday, for example, Glenn Beck told listeners of his program, “There is a race war that is beginning. The new president of South Africa just said, ‘The time for reconciliation is over,’ and they are seizing the land and property of whites.”

The person who said “the time for reconciliation is over” was not President Cyril Ramaphosa — largely seen as a moderate throughout his career, whose negotiation skills helped bring about a peaceful end to apartheid — but rather Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of a far-left black nationalist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

American conservatives are suddenly discovering Malema, who is a compelling villain. It does not take long to find numerous YouTube videos of him chanting an inflammatory song calling for farmers to be shot (for which he was convicted in 2011 of hate speech, a crime under South Africa’s supposedly “liberal” constitution). And several North American filmmakers have traveled to South Africa recently to interview survivors of farm murders.

But the sad truth is that farm killings have been going on for decades — long before Malema appeared on the scene. And South Africans disagree about whether the murders are simply an extension of the brutal crime that also stalks South Africa’s urban areas, or whether they are part of a slow, deliberate effort to push white farmers off the land (land which, in some cases, was once taken from blacks or restricted to whites under colonialism and apartheid).

There is certainly a racial component to the issue of land reform in South Africa. Outside of traditional “homeland” areas, land is predominantly owned, and farmed, by whites. And leaders like Malema have ensured that land reform remains a hot-button issue.

Oddly, there is scant empirical evidence that many black South Africans actually want to farm. Rather, the land question is a proxy for the general frustration of South Africa’s persistent black underclass.

And while race plays a role in South Africa’s land controversy, it is not even the primary issue.

On Tuesday, the South African government warned black farmers and landowners that they, too, faced expropriation by the state if they were found not to be cultivating their land, or were merely holding property for speculative purposes. “Use it or lose it, even if you are black,” said an official with the ruling party’s “Economic Transformation Committee.”

The target of land reform, the government said, would be “unused” land, which it intended to redistribute to the poor — supposedly without hurting food security or risking Zimbabwe-style chaos.

That has not assuaged farmers’ fears. But they are expressing their worries — for now — in economic, not racial, terms: “Farmers are uncertain and asking if they should invest. Why would you invest if someone is just going to take it?” one industry leader said.

In other words: the problem is not racism, but socialism.

In a review of Ramaphosa’s first “State of the Nation” speech recently, liberal critic John Kane-Berman said the new president failed “to liberate himself from the ideology of transformation and the view that more intervention by the state will generate all the jobs we need.”

There is no “race war” in South Africa. But there is a drive for socialism — one that has reached America as well.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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