On Tuesday night, a few hours after Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke revealed that South Africa’s unemployment rate was now at 27.2%, President Cyril Ramaphosa attempted to convince the country that changing the Constitution to expropriate land without compensation will be good for the economy.
The rand immediately slumped and economists are expecting the worst on the markets today.
Why aren’t the investors whose dollars Ramaphosa so badly want to bring here to create more jobs not buying his story?
Because it simply doesn’t add up.
Ramaphosa’s late-night “address to the nation” as ANC president had very little to do with the economy and unemployment, and everything to do with the election.
Put differently: the ANC’s decision has very little to do with facts, and everything with emotion and sentiment.
By announcing prematurely that the ANC will argue for a constitutional amendment to Section 25 to make the conditions of land expropriation without compensation more “explicit”, Ramaphosa has taken a calculated political risk.
It is an open secret that Ramaphosa did not want the Constitution to be changed.
The Constitution already allows for expropriation without compensation in the public interest and experts like former president Kgalema Motlanthe and former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke have urged the state to bring test cases to court if they want to explore the limits of the clause.
The president isn’t stupid and he knows what policy uncertainty means for investment.
But Ramaphosa has a bigger priority: to convincingly win the 2019 general election.
Having won the ANC’s Nasrec conference with the narrowest of margins, Ramaphosa desperately needs a mandate from the electorate to rule with confidence.
He is effectively still in charge of Jacob Zuma’s government. Watching the public hearings of the Constitutional Review Committee over the past few weeks have convinced Ramaphosa that the majority of South Africans are in favour of a constitutional amendment.
Although the ANC resolved at Nasrec that the State should be able to expropriate land without compensation, it was the EFF that championed the issue by bringing a motion in Parliament that was eventually amended and adopted by the ANC.
At the public hearings, the EFF’s supporters were the loudest and the party has managed to turn plenty of these hearings into election rallies.
Ramaphosa and the ANC saw this, became jittery and chose populism over principle and process.
By ignoring the counsel of people like Motlanthe and Moseneke in favour of what they deem to be the view of the “majority”, Ramaphosa and the ANC have effectively chosen populism over facts.
The fact that not a single current or former minister or director-general of rural development have been summoned to appear before the hearings and explain what has happened to the billions of rands spent on land reform since 1994 is a crying shame.
By ignoring Parliament’s process and jumping to a conclusion before the finalisation of public hearings, Ramaphosa and the ANC have chosen politics over process. Why would any self-respecting individual or organisation still participate in the review committee’s proceedings if the outcome is a fait accompli?
Last night’s statement will create further uncertainty for investors and land owners and deter, rather than stimulate, future investment when South Africa desperately needs every rand it can get.
In a single speech, Ramaphosa has announced that he would push for “explicit” constitutional amendments and called on new investment to stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, these two things don’t go together so well – something the president is about to find out in the next 24 hours.