Land Debate: Was the ANC Leadership’s hand forced to break with its doublespeak on a Constitutional amendment?


The ANC last night released what is considered an unequivocal position on the subject of land reform by means of constitutional amendment. It marks a watershed moment since the ANC leadership has appeared dithering on functional clarity as to its unambiguous position on a debate it simply is not leading. It is perhaps a welcome relief on an increasing question on the credibility and sincerity of the ANC on its adopted resolutions from the 54th conference and the subsequent processes that followed.

“There is also a growing body of opinion, by a number of South Africans, that the Constitution as it stands does not impede expropriation of land without compensation. The lekgotla reaffirmed its position that a comprehensive land reform programme that enables equitable access to land will unlock economic growth, by bringing more land in South Africa to full use and enable the productive participation of millions more South Africans in the economy,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “Accordingly, the ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the Constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be affected.” These are the words of the ANC statement as relayed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

This statement and moment stand on the shoulders of a protracted eight-month long process that had its genesis with an adopted resolution on land expropriation without compensation, and where necessary an amendment of the constitution. We know this watershed resolution of the December 2017 Conference was not well received both inside and outside the ANC. It didn’t help when the ANC was outfoxed by the EFF who had the honour of tabling the motion in February. The ANC quickly found itself trailing and had to settle for a slight amendment of the motion which it endorsed.

The challenge here was the ANC, as with so many core debates in our society, was now not leading the discourse but an opposition party triggered the adopted motion resulted in a public engagement process which now is running to its conclusion. This Parliamentary Constitutional Review Committee led process included public meetings and, in some instances, electronic campaign commentary. A process many of us participated in. The interesting thing is while we were told 229857 people submitted comments, thus participating in this exercise off those who participated, 129549 apparently commented against the review while 100308 commented in favour of the review. The public sessions held around the country so far in eight of the nine provinces shows the opposite.

While one commends the ANC for the bold and categorical statement, we will be fooled to assume this decision was not one arrived at by force. The ANC was compelled to be this clear. There has been growing sentiment that the ANC was deviating, engaging in sophisticated delaying tactics and therefore diluting its adopted resolutions.

As with all things, the statement did not exclude a caveat: “There is also a growing body of opinion, by a number of South Africans, that the Constitution as it stands does not impede expropriation of land without compensation.” We know there are many constitutional defenders from retired constitutional court judges to jurists that have advanced this position. They locate the problem at what is considered an undeniable failure of the state hitherto to test the efficacy of the current articulations of the constitution on this score as yet. Again, we must be aware that the president can again be perceived as engaging in his usual doublespeak on critical matters that define ANC resolutions, at least those that make up his mandate.

The behaviour and reaction of those who still own and control the means of production – whites – was to be expected. Unfortunately, their lobbying and engaging the ANC and its key leaders have failed and the ANC with this statement left them surprised. Is it, therefore, a political decision. We must ask what informed the ANC’s arrival at this statement.

How then did the ANC arrive at this statement and what does it mean?

  1. This statement is arrived at due to the reading of the balance of forces, a notion the ANC and its tripartite alliance use to gauge the temperament of the hour. That reading confirms in no uncertain terms that the ANC at internal level wants a constitutional amendment and no amount of fancy-footwork and sophisticated word choices in the public space will do.
  1. It evidences the contest of what is commonly understood in the ANC and tripartite circles as the balance of forces within the ANC. We all know that a key number of ANC leaders in the NEC and Parliament categorically did not support nor showed any energy for the amendment of the constitution. Last night this section realised they are losing the battle and this can only hurt the ANC.
  1. We also know that the ANC’s Land Workshop delivered a rather dubious message when it allowed the High-Level Panel Report space which was conveniently confused as a directive when the ANC never adopted a position on the report. The communicating of the outcomes of that gathering, as led by Enoch Godongwana and Ronald Lamola, left many more confused as to what the ANC’s true stance on a constitutional amendment is.
  1. What is indisputable is that the parliamentary hearings confirmed the marginalised and poor as abundantly clear on their request to have the constitution communicate in clarity on land expropriation without compensation.  They are simply not satisfied with public relations exercises of ‘smokes and mirrors’ where they are lulled to think the ANC is serious when it is not.
  1. This statement confirms the victory of Radical Economic Transformation as the only true position and thus continues to define ANC policy, not the mooted ‘inclusive growth’ doctrine that Ramaphosa ran his campaign on.
  1. On another level, it also engages the subject of who is the true custodian and voice of ANC resolutions. The fact that the ANC president left the lekgotla and a few hours later in an unprecedented fashion addressed the SA public is a surprising incident given the normal practice after any Lekgotla.

Usually, the responsibility rests with the office of the secretary general to communicate and inform outcomes. Is it possible that the president was advised that he has hitherto not owned up to this critical debate and that ANC members are growing impatient with a tangible ambivalent stance his presidency projects?

His choice to own this moment may, therefore, be an attempt to reclaim lost space.  It is commonly expected that the ANC president owns the resolutions that mandated his presidency. It, therefore, is expected that he acts as custodian of the mandate. While the surprise element remains, of him making public a Lekgotla engagement, we nevertheless welcome him finally owning up to ANC resolutions and binding himself and those in the ANC who do not share the collective stance to what they were mandated. We cannot but ask why did the President rush to address SA following the Lekgotla?

  1. It is also personal for the president who seeks an outright victory come 2019. Caretaker presidents never have it easy, he is yet to win an election and is finishing is predecessor’s term. The president, while having much support outside the ANC, came to realise that support does not translate to internal mandated support in his organisation. The collective voice of the masses on Radical Economic Transformation as communicated by eight provinces on constitutional change cannot be further ignored since it will punish his presidency come 2019.
  1. The ANC’s statement is also aimed at neutralising of the EFF who rightfully can claim they have been leading the public discourse on land reform, immanent in demand of a constitutional amendment.  The EFF’s position is clear, it wants the state to be the custodian of all land. This stance is a tad too radical for the ANC at this stage. It will, therefore, be a case of trade-offs if the ANC hopes to push this through parliament since it needs the EFF to cross that two-thirds majority.
  1. Unfortunately, the journey to give effect to this statement is a long-winded and meandering one that must navigate many obstacles. We also know that it will not happen before the 2019 election, so adopting the stance as communicated in a statement is merely the start of the process.


  • While many are excited about the statement, hailing it as a sign of true leadership, the reality dictates that the actual leadership is what proceeds from this statement.
  • The questions are many: What are the means and mechanisms to be engaged to ensure this statement is not a means for some to have it followed with inaction as has become custom with the ANC?  Does the ANC have the capacity to deliver on this statement? Is there a roadmap and what is that roadmap? Does this collective statement silence the internal voices that advocate the opposite?
  • The actual leadership is still to communicate a thought-through step by step process to achieve this.
  • What guarantees has the ANC put in place to ensure the processes are sound, systematic and decisive so as not to unnecessarily keep SA tied up in processes.

With this statement, the ANC attempts redeeming itself from the confusing doublespeak of ideological and often self-interest individual remarks. This doublespeak has shown little regard for the masses in and outside the ANC on this important matter.

We will continue to watch the ANC leadership on this one since SA and the marginalised deserve nothing less than an honest and sincere ANC from the bottom up. The advice to those – regardless of how close they are to the ANC leadership in economic interest – who do not vote for the ANC is this: they cannot hold sway over the masses that keep the ANC in power.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation