Mandela Davos version 2.0: Will Ramaphosa’s WEF experience be a repeat?

Flag map of South AfricaDAVOS — Having spent some time on Tuesday hanging around the Team South Africa WEF nerve centre in Davos, I began to realise how change is in the air. Having chatted with MMI Deputy CEO Mary Vilakazi at the Team South Africa area, it became clear to me that business in the country is starting to feel more upbeat amid recent political changes. A member of the South African communications team also told me that Ramaphosa will have two key briefings in the coming days. The first is a session on Wednesday with key delegates. The second is a press conference with media on Thursday. I’m told the Thursday press conference promises to be a ‘big event’. I’m not sure what that means, but Ramaphosa is here – and he could just be facing his Mandela moment. This piece published below first appeared on Daily Maverick. – Gareth van Zyl

By Yonela Diko*

In 1992, Madiba travelled to Davos, accompanied by among others Saki Macozoma and Tito Mboweni. Mandela was going to Davos to sell ANC economic policy which included nationalisation. Some in the ANC were already advising Madiba to tone it down on nationalisation, but Madiba would hear none of it. Madiba must have thought that the devastation of the state during apartheid warranted that in the new dispensation the state must use the same control to correct its sins and change the lives of our people – and not leave them at the mercy of the markets and individualism and all the neoliberal tropes.

During dinners in Davos prior to the main events, Madiba spoke to other political leaders about the ANC’s economic policy, extolling the virtues of state intervention. While there, Li Peng, then premier of China, asked the chairperson of the WEF to arrange a meeting with Madiba, at which he told Mandela that China’s experience suggested that nationalisation would be an error. The prime minister of Vietnam, also at the forum, conveyed a similar message.

FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shake hands at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos in January 1992.

These reflections from other world leaders made Madiba pause. Here were communist countries which ideally should have been celebrating Madiba’s policies of nationalisation and centralisation of economic power but instead were now advising him that from their own experiences, such a policy would be an error.

Madiba turned to his ANC team; “Chaps, forget this nationalisation thing, and focus rather on the basic needs of our people.” According to Mboweni, immediately after the team returned to South Africa, they presented their report to the ANC and had long conversations which led to the Nasrec Conference, which came out with “Ready to Govern”. (Dare not Linger – 2017)

These were all ANC conversations, ANC experiences, that had nothing to do with the Nats or Codesa. The ANC has always within itself had the capacity to engage and persuade one another on best practices.

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Flag of the African National Congress (ANC)

It’s 2018, and Cyril Ramaphosa, now ANC President, arguably Madiba’s favourite son, is in Davos to sell ANC policies. There is no doubt that Ramaphosa will get similar calls from world leaders as Madiba did, and this time it will be around expropriation of land without compensation. Unlike the rich western countries who always seek to impose their doctrine on poor countries, countries such as Vietnam only seek to share their own experiences of the same or similar policies and nothing more.

What might they share with Ramaphosa this time? Land reform in Vietnam happened between 1952 and 1956. It was said to mirror precisely what had been done both by the Soviets in the Ukraine in the 1930s and by Mao Tse-Tung in China just a few years before. The main purpose of all these land reforms was clearly not to give land to needy peasants, but to atomise any possible centres of resistance by breaking them down economically.

According to reporting in Vietnamese by Phuong Anh, Nguyen Anh, and Viet Hung, “The official history of land reform in Vietman characterised the period from 1952-56 as having committed serious leftist errors, as the number of wrongly classified landowners was ‘too high’.”

It would seem there were no proper records of who exactly is a landowner and whoever was randomly classified was then stripped off his land whatever the circumstances of that land ownership. Naturally people resisted, which resulted in a massacre.

The real lessons, however, on land expropriation had already been shared with the ANC by Fidel Castro at a meeting between ANC leaders and Castro at his invitation in the 1970s. President Mbeki related this story as he sent his well wishes to the Castro family and the people of Cuba after the death of this resilient and iconic leader.

People hold signs and flags outside of Habana University as they react to news of the death of Fidel Castro, in Havana, Cuba, on Saturday, November 26, 2016. Photographer: Eliana Aponte/Bloomberg

Castro told the ANC that in the experience of Cuba, you can expropriate the land but you can’t expropriate the added value or the brand tied into the land. Castro told a story of when his government took over the land from foreigners who produced rum with the prerequisite skills to continue the production and keep jobs. Unfortunately his government did not own the name rum, which was registered in Spain. So Cuba could produce rum, in quantities that could satisfy both the domestic market and exports, but they just could not sell it as rum.

Naturally, without the established market and without the ability to sell rum as rum, and the burden of having to begin a new brand production not being able to be sustained, jobs were lost, some farms closed down and the temptation to recall the old foreign owners began to grow inside the country.

Almost all countries that have embarked on land reform would share similar lessons.

Unlike their suggestions to Madiba about nationalisation, they are unlikely to tell Ramaphosa that embarking on land reform would be an error, but they will probably tell him about the manner in which they would have implemented their reforms in more inclusive and less politically charged ways.

Cyril Ramaphosa
Deputy President and newly-elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa

The first lesson that these countries will share with South Africa is to have a clear and defined purpose for our land reforms. If it is to give land back to its original owners, that must be clarified, and where expectations are that the original owners, once they receive the land, must maintain the productive capacity of that land, then maybe a skills revolution must precede such reform.

The second lesson is that there must be clear assurance that land reform is not about disempowering whites economically, irrespective of how we feel about their occasional arrogance and self importance, tied to their unjustified enrichment from the land.

The level of preparation for land reform must leave absolutely no room for administrative shortcomings. Land audit must be close to perfect and there must be “oneness” of mind among all South Africans as to the ultimate goal of land reform, which must ultimately be to deepen the social compact by lifting the majority of our people into productive living.

Where many of these processes are not met satisfactorily, Ramaphosa has enough political capital to come back to the ANC and say, “Chaps, this thing needs more time and more work.”

  • Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector.