Written By: - Date published: 8:30 am, August 4th, 2018 - 31 comments
Categories: Africa, Deep stuff, democratic participation, elections, Globalisation, International, racism, treaty settlements - Tags:
In 1962, John F Kennedy said “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
That’s on my mind when I see three things this week.
The Zimbabwean election, the declaration by the South African President of legalising forced farm possession by the state for redistribution, and a map of New Zealand showing every settlement of Maori land disenfranchisement so far.
Upon his release Nelson Mandela chose not to violently overthrow white land ownership, in favour of a great compact between his political leaders and the major businesses of the day. This choice enabled democratic reform, eradication of official apartheid, and the election of his party to power.
Now, with national rage growing about the slow pace of land reform, that same party are on their way to simply taking farms from whites without compensation. Woo-hoo the radical Economic Freedom Fighters.
Kennedy’s little maxim has some bearing here. Revolution or die. But land seizure aided by constitutional amendment is going to cause substantial disruption to the society, economy, and viability of South Africa. There is simply no way of telling which way their society will go after that: more like Zimbabwe, or more like New Zealand.
Zimbabwe’s government seized land by force from white farmers 18 years ago, and is finally getting around to compensating those people for that loss.
With the benefit of hindsight, the Zimbabwean experience tells us that the notion of expropriation without compensation is ruinous. They collectively paid for it with eight consecutive years of economic decline that led to job losses, deindustrialisation, loss of export revenue, economic growth foregone, and now a huge reliance on imported donor food aid. Zimbabwean MP and economist Eddie Cross calculated that loss at about $20 billion a decade ago. That’s a whole bunch of futile, unjust misery inflicted.
Even with the original revolutionary leader gone, the Zimbabwean version of a free and fair society is desperate and fraught right now, and will be for decades to come.
And then there’s little old New Zealand. This country went through the fastest land alienation process of the three, and also the most successful in its amelioration of the damage. You can check out both the speed of that, and the miserable compensations for the loss settlement by settlement, here.
Sure, our collective record of mechanised violence from the introduction of guns is not black and white, and our reforms have been gradual in successfully defraying any thought of armed uprising for 150 years. But on most native peoples stats, honestly we are pretty disgusting.
Above my fireplace is a map (one of four in existence) from the New Zealand Parliamentary records showing the boundaries of the land it is about to take from all Maori to punish them for their uprising. What a pen they weilded to go with the victors’ gun.
Not necessary to run counterfactual histories. But for all our success, very few Maori feature in any of it.
I can’t come to a settled conclusion on this yet. Every postcolonial situation is different. Every national trajectory is different. So much of the long term record of both brands of government here stand us in positive stead compared to any other African country I can think of. That’s not a high benchmark.
Plenty of work to do, but it’s still fine to stand back and say why one is better or worse with as much objectivity as one can muster.
Thinking back on those opening words by John F Kennedy, we were damn lucky.
I’m going to leave the last word to Nelson Mandela, who has a great political legacy but a pretty mixed economic one. Here’s an excerpt from his closing at the trial that sentenced him for decades:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” he said. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”