Natasha Marrian Political editor: Business Day
Thabo Mbeki. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Thabo Mbeki. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Former president Thabo Mbeki has weighed in on the land question, saying the ANC has abandoned its historical values on non-racialism through its framing of the debate as one of black versus white.

A 30-page paper leaked from the Mbeki Foundation questions the ANC’s approach to the land issue, saying it marks a shift from the party’s values expressed throughout its 106-year history.

Business Day has established that the paper was an internal working paper at Mbeki Foundation and was not intended for public consumption.

The paper says communication from the ANC around the land question indicates that the ANC is no longer "a representative of the people of SA".

It argues that while the land question is an imperative that should be addressed, it has to be done while simultaneously responding to the "national question", which is to unite South Africans across race and class divides.

The posture of some leaders in the ANC, the paper says, mirrors more the position of the EFF than that of the governing party, which is long established through its history and its former leaders, as well as in the Freedom Charter.

The paper quotes former party presidents, the Freedom Charter as well as past ANC conference resolutions.

"Put simply and directly, the decision taken by the ANC … on the land question raises the question — whom does the contemporary ANC represent, given its radical departure from historic positions of the ANC on the resolution of the land question," the Mbeki Foundation says. The paper points to comments by former president Jacob Zuma in parliament in February when he called on "black parties" to unite to obtain a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.

"Jacob Zuma was advancing a perspective about the ‘resolution of the national question’ radically different from the long-established and historic position of the ANC … as part of this he [Zuma] also made bold to change the very nature of the ANC, characterising it as a ‘black party’," the paper says.

Zuma quotes

"It might be that at that time, many in the ANC did not understand that what Zuma was advancing was, in fact, a fundamental redefinition of both what the ANC is and its historic mission," it says.

The foundation’s paper then goes on to quote Zuma, who it says commented after leaving office that SA should not be a constitutional democracy but a parliamentary one, implying that the "black parliamentary majority" should have the freedom to determine the future of the country without the constraints imposed by the constitution.

"By seeking to remove constitutional power and restraint, Zuma seeks to assert the possibility for mere parliamentary majorities to be abused as legitimising authoritarian rule by any party which would gain a parliamentary majority, including as this would have been achieved through corrupt means," it says.

The current position expressed by some leaders of the ANC on land expropriation without compensation shows that they have "accepted" to be led by the EFF on the matter.

The EFF position is a "vulgar and gross misrepresentation of the historic position of the ANC" on the national question, the paper says.

The foundation’s comments are in line with concerns that the governing party, outflanked by the EFF on the left, may be more prone to deviating from longstanding policies and pursue populist programmes in order to regain lost ground, especially with an election looming in less than a year. If that extends to other aspects of government, such as fiscal policy or defending the central bank’s independence, it may endanger economic growth and thwart President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plan to attract $100bn of investment over five years.

The paper concludes that the ANC, in discharging its necessary responsibility to tackle the land question, should ensure that its decisions on the issue "respond simultaneously to the national question".

"Whatever decisions the ANC takes must never negate the historical responsibility of the ANC to unite the people of SA to build a common non-racial society ... " it says.