American Renaissance

Mugabe and Mbeki — Two of a Kind

Damon Ansell, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 14

As South Africa goes to the polls today, Thabo Mbeki wants the world to trust that he is no Robert Mugabe. Most are familiar with the Mugabe legacy of stolen elections, land “reform,” and brutal paybacks committed against white Zimbabwean farmers; many also follow Mr. Mbeki’s lead in viewing South Africa as a beacon of democracy and respect for property in Africa. As an American who grew up in South Africa and one with family still residing in the country, I beg to differ with Mbeki’s self-assessment. He has more in common with Mugabe than he’d like the world to know.

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South Africa is a country of 46 million people (roughly the size of Spain). The population is 77.4% black, 11.7% white, 8.4% designated “colored” (i.e., of mixed racial composition), and 2.5% Indian. In this regard, South Africa is nearly the photographic negative of the United States, a country composed of 85% whites, France (88% white) and Germany (91% white).

Geographically, South Africa is nearly twice the size of Texas and two-fifths the size of the European Union. Of that land, the state controls about 25%, 5% is uninhabitable, native Africans own 13%, and the remaining 60% or so is distributed among the rest of the population. And yet according to Mr. Mbeki, 87% of land is owned by whites and 13% by black Africans; Mbeki’s calculations conveniently ignore state-owned land and lack a consistent definition of privately owned land.

Meanwhile, much of South Africa’s land is not conducive to productive use; less than 13% of the land is arable. The country has an average rainfall of 464 millimeters, compared to a world average of 857 mm, and only 31% of the country receives a rainfall of more than 600 mm.

It is with his land policy that Mr. Mbeki faces a challenge to his legacy. Long lambasted by the international community, Zimbabwe-style land reform is alive and well in South Africa. Land reform started in South Africa shortly after the 1994 emergence of majority rule by the ANC with the Restitution of Land Rights Act 22, the creation of the Land Claims Commission and the Land Claims Court.

The crime associated with land reform also survives, according to Interpol and the international human-rights organization Genocide Watch. The South African farming community is the world’s one single group “most targeted for murder” — 313 murders per 100,000 population, even higher than the rate for South African policemen. Between 1994 and 2003, 1450 farmers have been murdered in South Africa amid 8,000 armed farm attacks. According to the farmers union, 20% of all commercial farms in South Africa have been attacked or pillaged, while the police claim an anemic 3% conviction rate for these types of murders and assaults.

Illegal squatting and land invasions are pervasive. In one example, over 40,000 squatters occupied a private farm outside Johannesburg. After years of attempting to persuade the police to do something, the owner took the government to court, which ruled that the squatters should be removed. The court eventually ordered that the government should pay for the removal and find the squatters alternative accommodation. The government appealed to the Constitutional Court, arguing that those who would be removed would “jump the queue” for government housing. The sanctity of private property was not an issue during the proceedings and has been repeatedly ignored by this government. To date the government has done nothing to remove these squatters, preferring to continue the appeal process.

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The world community should be wary of this government and its policy makers. Taxpayers from many countries fund famine and HIV relief in Africa; their hard-earned contributions will increasingly be in vain the further Mr. Mbeki travels down the path well-traveled by Robert Mugabe.

Mr. Ansell is co-founder of the uhurugroup.com, founded to promote free markets and free ideas in Africa. He is also a senior policy analyst with the Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington, D.C.-based thinktank.

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