In Zimbabwe, the reason why there was such a delay in addressing land ownership was because until 2000 Mugabe never took much interest in the need for land restitution – he was more focused on consolidating power. Funds from the UK for land redistribution were squandered and many of the farms that were bought for blacks in the late ’80s and ’90s were simply given to Zanu PF cronies — something which also happened time and time again in the 2000 land grabs. These started when disgruntled war veterans, tired of a government obsessed with self-enrichment, started protesting about their dire economic sitation. To retain his grip on power, Mugabe blamed the land and economic imbalances on white farmers and encouraged them to invade private properties.
In South Africa, land reform is moving far too slowly and needs to be more of a priority for the SA government. The government must also ensure that the process happens in a sustainable and holistic manner without jeopardising South Africa’s food security. It is imperative that technical and financial support be provided for the recipients of land transferred from white ownership.
The wealth gap between rich and poor is also increasing. Although the black middleclass has grown astronomically, it still – sadly – represents only a fraction of the total black population. This is largely due to the fact that policies like Black Economic Empowerment have succeeded only in creating a small black politically-connected elite and have failed to empower the masses of impoverished black South Africans. I get the sense that these policies were designed more as a means of entrenching ruling party patronage and ANC economic influence instead of actually being an attempt to empower those disadvantaged by apartheid.
The key to long lasting prosperity for ALL South Africans lies not in redistributing white wealth but in creating a South Africa where everyone has the opportunities to reach their dreams. To this end, it is vitally important that education in SA improves. Education is the way out of poverty because it is through education that people receive the skills and intellectual nourishment that facilitates innovation and increases the likelihood of employment.
Currently our education system is chronically under-resourced. There are not enough teachers, text books and classrooms for the vast majority of South African children. The ANC government has failed to resolve the inequalities within education inherited from apartheid. These need to be addressed urgently.
The government and civil society must also encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship through support agencies, microloans, skills development initiatives and at schools. Service delivery must also radically improve in effectiveness and impact so as to eradicate poverty.
For the wealth gap to decrease, South Africa needs a government that cares about the people (and not merely the top echelons of the ruling party). Politicians must look beyond self-enrichment to create a South Africa in which everyone has the opportunity to create wealth.
South Africa’s government must be one that acts with courage and decisiveness in combating corruption and patronage. It must strive to implement policies that benefit all South Africans – but especially those disadvantaged by apartheid’s poisonous legacy.