A REMARK made in jest by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka about land reforms in Zimbabwe has sparked a major political controversy. Speaking at the first African conference on distance education at Unisa on Wednesday, Mlambo-Ngcuka
said South Africa could “learn from Zimbabwe about land reform”.
She said many believed South Africa’s own land reform process was too slow and too structured.
It required “a bit of oomph”, she remarked.
“We learnt a few lessons from Zimbabwe – how to do it fast,” she said to laughter from delegates, including Zimbabwe’s Education minister, Stan Mudenge.
“We may need some skills from Zimbabwe to help us,” she said.
Although Mlambo-Ngcuka’s remark was met with loud laughter from the delegates, the Democratic Alliance and others reacted with shock.
On Wednesday night, Murphy Morobe, head of communication at the Presidency, said there were several light-hearted moments during the conference.
“The deputy president made this remark during a light-hearted exchange between her and Dr Mudenge, whom she knows,” he explained.
Morobe said that notwithstanding the “light-hearted” moment, the point was that South Africa could learn from Zimbabwe “or any other country” about the important issue of land reform.
He added: “The deputy president definitely did not agree or disagree with the Zimbabwean issue when she made those remarks. The fact is that our land reforms need ‘oomph’, as she said, but one should not elevate a light-hearted moment and turn it into a fact.”
South Africa’s northern neighbour has been plagued by high unemployment, economic collapse and critical food shortages, and has faced international criticism for its land reform programme and recent clean-up drive, which left more than 700 000 people homeless.
The DA said in its reaction to Mlambo-Ngcuka’s remarks: “Surely the deputy president is joking?”
Party spokesperson Kraai van Niekerk said the DA believed that the lesson for South Africa lay in not following the same route taken by its troubled neighbour.
“Zimbabwe offers a textbook example of ways in which land reform should not be carried out. A power-hungry dictator has driven his economy to the edge of collapse. A thriving agricultural system is now just a distant memory, and the president dishes out farms and land to his supporters in the defence force.”
The land reform programme in South Africa had progressed far too slowly, but the blame for this, he said, rested with the government.
“The legal framework is in place and there are enough landowners and farmers who want to be part of this process.
“The government is trying to turn landowners into villains instead of recognising that they are victims of government slackness and failure to vote the funds.”
Van Niekerk added that Mlambo-Ngcuka should realise that, as deputy president, she needed to act in a much more balanced and responsible manner when she made public appearances. – The Star.