By Femke Brandt · 14 Nov 2014
On Thursday, November 6, I attended the second sitting of the Karoo Parliament in Cradock, Eastern Cape. The Parliament is hosted by the Karoo Development Foundation (KDF) that was established to examine the economic potential of the Greater Karoo, so that it can influence future government planning and expenditures. The foundation and its trustees consist mainly, not exclusively, of Afrikaner academics, business owners, entrepreneurs and farmers.
During his opening speech, the chair of the KDF, professor in agricultural economics, Johann Kirsten, stated that it is first and foremost passion that brings people together on this platform and that “the Karoo is like a common resource”. The mission of the trust is to create “a sense of local ownership and pride”.
The Karoo is not a common resource. In fact, its natural resources, economic assets and businesses, increasingly, are owned by fewer private owners of land (including foreigners) that have managed to adapt or benefit from the liberalization and deregulation of the agricultural sector and the growth of the tourist market. But the majority of the Karoo’s people still struggle to make ends meet in the regional economy that fails to absorb labour and offers very few economic opportunities to the poor.
In the past twenty years, not much has transformed in terms of land reform, the spatial layout of towns, social make-up of clubs, associations and churches or labour and power relations.
Since 2009, I have engaged with farmworkers and farmers by way of academic research in the Karoo that focuses on the implications of the growing conversion of agricultural farms to game farming. My ideas have been profoundly shaped by my experiences on commercial farms. I listened to stories from people in RDP houses where farmworkers have now established their homes due to persisting tenure insecurity and tense relations with farm owners. They have moved from the farms where they experienced births and deaths, hardships and joys and where they developed a strong notion of belonging.
Is the KDF interested in creating a sense of local ownership and pride amongst farm dwellers?
Life in the Karoo has been determined by agricultural rhythms and all people’s struggles have been related to contests over who owns and uses this semi-arid desert land. Access to land and natural resources has shaped relations and experiences in the countryside and still does for most people. Whether waiting along the roadside to be picked up for a casual job on a farm or while applying for a government house because commercial farmers gradually exit residential labour arrangements; one can only understand the heartbeat of the Karoo if the quaint tourist towns, the dusty townships and the surrounding farmlands are regarded as one whole.
The KDF Parliament unfortunately zooms in on a very particular and narrow image of the Karoo, as a space for economic growth through a variety of tourism-related activities - an Olive Schreiner route, Karoo cuisine, construction of airfields, as well as waste picking and recycling to beautify the towns. Furthermore, the foundation focuses on heritage preservation to ensure residents and visitors a taste of colonial architecture. To do so, they aim to influence policy and demand support from government. They want to access public resources through collaboration with local municipalities.
My question is, who desires these kinds of ‘developments’ and who benefits from them?
A problematic and popular assumption is that ‘unlocking economic potential’ will result in a trickle down of benefits to the poor and unemployed. Will waste-picking really ever lift a poor person out of poverty? Will the preservation of colonial heritage have significant meaning for a township dweller who has no say in how the Karoo landscape is used? Will the marketing of certified Karoo lamb or attracting more tourists transform the Karoo into a healthy place? It will certainly bring profits to the sheep farmers and restaurant owners who sell and serve this dish. But the key to understanding how development is taking place in the Karoo, is realising that the passion to protect and utilize the Karoo, as Johann Kirsten explained in Parliament, is linked to economic interests.
Management and development are neoliberal synonyms for exercising control over space and people. Private businesses and development agencies are well organised and equipped to access public resources. There is a strong expectation that local municipalities should support their plans. This means they generate tools to protect economic interests closely linked to notions of belonging and identity and to control processes of economic, social and spatial engineering.
Meanwhile unorganised workers and poor people need access to public resources to determine their own futures and build communities. The language of ‘helping’ the unfortunate majority or making the poor ‘aware’ of their self-destructive behaviours is a deeply rooted paternalistic veil covering the face of systemic injustices. People liberate and emancipate themselves. It is indefensible to pretend to help the poor while maintaining the causes of their miseries.
Instead of working with current realities, imagination is required to disrupt these realities.
If there will be a next parliament, its participants should be thinking as well as talking realistically and honestly about how to address the structural inequalities in the Karoo’s economy. This means agriculture, the land question, property relations. It means transforming the Karoo into a more humane society. Talking about ‘development’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘economic potential’ outside of these fundamental issues will simply increase all the social ills and diseases that make society and its individuals sick, violent and destructive.
Instead of labelling people as the problem, to heal and transform the countryside, the aspirations, needs and ideas of farmworkers, township residents - the poor - must become central to the Karoo’s development.
At the same time, land and business owners have to reflect on their personal willingness to envision a radically different countryside, to acknowledge that developing the Karoo is a political project and that real transformation means losing privileges. They have to overcome fear of losing control over the way the Karoo will be utilized and lived in when shared with all those who desire to be a part of it. There is a need for dedication to radical transformation.
Define "Privileges" Please
.."At the same time, land and business owners have to reflect on their personal willingness to envision a radically different countryside, to acknowledge that developing the Karoo is a political project and that real transformation means losing privileges."
Something needs to be done to reduce social tension and to promote inclusive development.
The truth of Dr Femke Brandt's statement however depends on the definition of "privileges".
The idea that whites must forfeit "privileges" is not new or without merit.
What "privileges" are however unclear to me.
If one cannot legislate the redistribution of particular well defined "privileges", redistribution will remain a pipe dream that will not happen unless a violent revolution destroy the current legal order/rule of law and is replaced with a peoples Parliament with a peoples constitution.
This is how Joe Slovo articulated the idea of redistribution of "privileges" in his 1988 document titled The South African Working Class and the National Democratic Revolution-
"The basic objectives of liberation cannot be achieved without undermining the accumulated political, social, cultural and economic white privileges. The moulding of our nation will be advanced in direct proportion to the elimination of these accumulated privileges. The winning over of an increasing number of whites to the side of democracy is an essential part of our policy."
I understand Brandt perfectly well if she is a communist promoting the seditious NDR.
If that is the case she is actually saying Karoo farms should be expropriated without compensation for redistribution, without property rights, to the "masses", to use that derogatory communist term, for occupation as they deem fit.
This scenario represents the "radically different countryside" that Brandt has in mind where want and poverty will increase with no hope for future development.
Take a good look at the neglect and poverty associated with communally owned land under the control of powerful Kings that are elevated and protected by Sections 143 (1) (b) , 211, 212, 219 (1) (a) and 235 of the Constitution, 1996.
Is this what Brandt has in mind for the Karoo?
The NDR disregards the right to own and not to be arbitrarily deprived of property as per Article 17 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The other privilege Slovo has in mind, was the redistribution of scarce work opportunities introduced in practice by the government of the day with AA and Employment Equity.
Article 23 (1) of the UNUDHR states-
"Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment..."
The late Dr Mario Ambrosini said-
"I know of no other cases in a democracy in which a large majority made it legally mandatory to discriminate against a small minority, save for Malaysia which prompted the Chinese to leave it to form Singapore. When affirmative action is for the benefit of a minority, its effects can be absorbed without the majority being discriminated against, but with our percentages and with the modalities of our BBBEE, radical discrimination ensues.
This mandatory legal discrimination is meant to apply on a purely racial and not economic basis, leaving no hope for the about 760,000 whites who in the past 19 years have moved from a dignified life into squatter camps and below the poverty line. What policy justification can there be to discriminate against them?
Discrimination also applies to whites born after 1992, who did not benefit from Apartheid and should not be responsible for paying for its crimes. Because our inheritance taxation, related costs and inflation cut more than 50% off wealth transfers between generations, there are no economic bases to indiscriminately penalize children for their fathers' economic gains, especially when this discrimination applies to affluent children and those who inherited nothing.
As it is morally repugnant, undemocratic and unconstitutional to hold children responsible for their fathers' alleged or actual crimes, or ascribe collective culpability..."
But if Brandt is not a communist and not an exponent of Employment Equity that will sooner or later negatively influence also her and her children's career prospects, she will have to carefully define the "privileges" she has in mind to place her thoughts on development on a firm foundation.
"Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms" are Constitutional imperatives. See Section 1 of the Constitution, 1996.
Defining the "white privileges" meant for redistribution accurately is very important if we want to make progress with the eradication of poverty, unemployment and inequality and in establishing the prosperous "national democratic society" that the NDR has in mind.
I will watch this space for an update from Brandt and the Karoo Development Foundation (KDF).
We need to very careful when castigating privileges. How can a good education be something that a person needs to be deprived of or punished for having just because others have not had such an education? Every educated person is more capable of benefiting not only themselves butalso the community by their actions. Our aim should be to spread such privileges more widely rather than castigate or remove them.
Popular Rhetoric Obfuscates and Project Reponsibility
My impression is that certain generalised words and phraseology have entered the popular lexicon/rhetoric in South Africa from abroad and are carelessly used and repeated without clear definitions or without a proper understanding of South African law, practices and circumstances-
"White privileges" - I already explained my uncertainties about the definition of "white privileges".
"Radical transformation" â€“ what is this and how does Dr Femke Brandt propose to legislate, manage and measure it?
"Liberalization" â€“ what liberalisation does Brandt have in mind?
"Deregulation of the agricultural sector" - what deregulation does Brandt have in mind?
"Economy that fails to absorb (unskilled) labour" - if Brandt has a remedy for this cumbersome phenomenon, or for pedestrian growth, the whole world will applaud her just as prof Thomas Piketty is being applauded.
"Land reform" - what does Brandt have in mind and what should Karoo farmers do about it?
"Spatial layout" - what does Brandt have in mind? What is the Western Cape Provincial government doing about it?
"Social make-up of clubs, associations and churches" - what is Brandt actually saying? Does she imply that freedom of association is wrong and if so, why?
"Labour relations" - the Labour Relations Act, 1995 are regularly criticised by employers and labour unionists alike and Nedlac should deal with it. What amendments to the LRA does Brandt have in mind?
"Power relations" - what relations and how does Brandt propose to change it?
"Focuses on the implications of the growing conversion of agricultural farms to game farming" - what dynamics are driving this transformation and how does Brandt propose to change it?
"Persisting tenure insecurity and tense relations with farm owners" - my impression is the farm workers expect a type of "tenure security" and special immunity that only those in control of communally owned land enjoy.
When commercial farmers become unproductive and fail to service their debt they lose tenure. The eviction of hapless farmers has been going on for ages. How does Brandt propose to change this cruel reality?
"They have moved from the farms where they experienced births and deaths, hardships and joys and where they developed a strong notion of belonging" - how does Brandt propose to change this cruel reality?
"Creating a sense of local ownership and pride amongst farm dwellers" â€“ how does Brandt propose the KDF do this?
"My question is, who desires these kinds of 'developments' and who benefits from them?" - I think the reply is manifest. What I want to know from Brandt is why she regards job creation through tourism in the Karoo as a bad idea? What about the rest of the country? Is tourist marketing wrong and if so, why?
"A problematic and popular assumption is that 'unlocking economic potential' will result in a trickle down of benefits to the poor and unemployed" â€“-this idea was partly successful to lift millions of people worldwide out of abject poverty.
And in SA the redistribution of wealth through grants and progressive personal income taxation, as well as wealth taxes such as estate tax and capital gains tax enable the government of the day to do a lot of good.
Does Brandt have an alternative system in mind? If so, she must kindly share it with the world?
South Africans are going to pay even higher taxes from 2015 onward to avoid a looming "fiscal cliff" and I hope Brandt will not complain. She at least knows why it is unavoidable.
"Meanwhile unorganised workers and poor people need access to public resources to determine their own futures and build communities" - I apparently was under the wrong impression that the Western Cape Provincial Government is doing its best. Maybe it is time to replace the failing DA government with an ANC and/or EFF government.
Identify and Discuss the Destructive Emotions
"...If there will be a next parliament, its participants should be thinking as well as talking realistically and honestly about how to address the structural inequalities in the Karoo's economy. This means agriculture, the land question, property relations. It means transforming the Karoo into a more humane society. Talking about 'development', 'sustainability', and 'economic potential' outside of these fundamental issues will simply increase all the social ills and diseases that make society and its individuals sick, violent and destructive...They have to overcome fear..."
Well said. They also use buzzwords without defining them.
The Karoo in my opinion must urgently identify and discuss the negative and destructive emotions prevalent in their society and should do something to improve the atmosphere of resentment and distrust that Dr. Femke Brandt noticed and reported.
Monetary poverty is a huge problem not only in the Karoo but across the whole country. A fundamental contributor to poverty is the way our current money system is designed to operate. Quite simply the system is structured to treat all money in circulation as old money even though some of it will be newly issued. And at the start of its circulatory life newly issued money needs to be treated differently to old money so that it becomes old money in reality not in fiction as at present through inflation. Recognising new money for what it is would open the way to issuing new money to ANY person who needed it in order for them to be able to enter into an exchange of goods and/or services with another person. The limit on the amount of new money issued to any person, and as yet unredeemed, would have to be established globally. Redemption of issued new money would happen automatically once the first user of the new money received monetary payment for goods and/or services supplied by them.
To implement this the current money system would need to be radically transformed with all players being enrolled in the transformation process. Money would exist only in digital form and it would be accessed only via the internet and digital appliances like cell phones. At national level a central monetary authority [NCA] would need to be established to over see the supply of money nationally. The other monetary institutions, like banks etc., would only need to adjust only minimally, like only handling digital money. Every person would be required to have a bank account if they were economically active because the NCA would deposit new money into it. The NCA would be tasked with ensuring the redemption of issued new money. Thus every economically active person would need to be registered with the NCA and every monetary transaction, withdrawal or deposit, that a person enters into would need to start off its life in the NCA's systems before being passed on to the personâ€™s bank who would then deal with it in the normal way.
This is just the outline of such a radically transformed money system and other than removing one of the major generators of poverty in our country it would offer many other benefits like eliminating the expensive problems of handling physical cash.
We desperately need a grassroots movement dedicated to monetary reform in South Africa. Any person interested in this please email me at rorys[at]homemail[dot]co[dot]za with 'monetary reform' in the subject line.