With regard to the economy, the statement offers a fresh approach, totally different for the Zuma years:

“Our vision is an economy that encourages and welcomes investment, offers policy certainty and addresses barriers that inhibit growth and social inclusion. Our commitment is to build strong partnerships in which efficient and accountable government agencies, responsible citizens and businesses, effective trade unions and civil society work together for the common good.”

There is no reference here to the notorious and over-simplified notion of radical economic transformation, meaning take from the (white) rich and give to the (African) poor, but rather welcoming investment, policy certainty and removing barriers to growth and social inclusion. The same is true of the statement’s reference to much needed collaboration between social partners and a candid acknowledgment that the governing party has not “sustained these partnerships in recent years.” A better grasp of the complexities of the economy comes through in the statement that South Africa needs a multi-faceted growth strategy. The sectors specifically mentioned include manufacturing, tourism, agricultural and mineral resources.

With regard to corruption and state capture, the statement portrays the strongest conviction and direction yet:

“We shall confront corruption and state capture in all the forms and manifestations that these scourges assume. This includes the immediate establishment of a commission of inquiry into state capture. The investigation and prosecution of those responsible will be given top priority”.

This is not seeking unity at all costs, but unity built on principles, without corruption and state capture – and without those who are part of that. For the first time, a commitment is made to prosecution of those responsible. This is progress.

Land reform (and by implication property), is not mentioned in the list about the ANC government’s achievements of the last two decades. It is pointed out that land dispossession has contributed profoundly to poverty, hardship, unemployment and social dislocation. It is acknowledged that the pace of improving security of tenure and undertaking land restitution and redistribution had been too slow and its impact limited; and that there had also not been a sufficient link between the return of land and the provision of support to beneficiaries. Importantly, the pursuing of the decision to expropriate land without compensation will be done in “a manner that not only meets the constitutional requirement of redress, but also promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security”.

The good news is that there is an acknowledgement that all is not well with the present implementation of land reform programmes, including appropriate support to beneficiaries. The earlier announcement by Ramaphosa to investigate the reasons for failure of these programmes is a good start. It is also significant that the implementation of land reform is qualified by a reference to the constitutional requirement of redress (my emphasis), as a reminder that the Constitution remains the highest law of the land and that it does contain measures of redress. More importantly, land reform should promote (my emphasis) economic development, agricultural production and food security – it should be more than not harming it, but should actively promote it.

The second piece of good news is that the statement announces that the ANC will “pursue the enormous potential of agriculture to promote industrialisation, create employment and transform our economy”. This will have the effect of improving food security, developing agro-processing, manufacturing of agricultural inputs and increasing exports. This goes beyond a blind pursuit of expropriation, but considers the economic effects of agricultural development positively and could signal good news for a sector often ignored or even criticized by government and wracked by drought and an often-unfriendly administrative environment.

In the summary of the tasks for the ANC in 2018, a last comment is made about land reform and agricultural development. The approach would be a comprehensive one that “utilises a range of mechanisms to accelerate the redistribution of land to black South Africans and to provide the necessary support to ensure that this is accompanied by an increase in agricultural production and food security”. This is constructive language. Given the conference resolution the last message is that the NEC “will develop proposals with regard to expropriation of land without compensation as part of the mechanisms available to government”. Interpreted positively, this could even mean that expropriation without compensation may not be implemented.

One can detect the hand of the new president in 8th January statement. It is, however, also common cause that he is walking a tightrope with the two main factions in the ANC, and therefore it is too early to see a fundamentally different ANC emerging or to declare victory for the constitutionalists.

Be that as it may, the issue of land reform and expropriation without compensation looms large in the national discourse. It would serve the rational leadership of the ANC well to consider the following salient points in this regard:

Ordinary South Africans may be willing to support you in your most difficult task Mr President. We understand the polarities you have to deal with. But we implore you: proceed with caution in the field of land reform. Private ownership, and the protection thereof, are sacrosanct in all countries of the world where economic growth is sought and greater equality achieved. It will not be different for South Africa.

By Theuns Eloff: Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation