I was driving with my daughter recently. We were stopped at a traffic light when she suddenly said, with real alarm, “Daddy, we’re moving backwards!” I had to explain to her that we were standing still and it was actually the bus in the lane next to us that was slowly creeping forward.
I told her that if you weren’t paying attention, it was easy to mistake the movement of the bus for our own.

On Friday morning I saw this phenomenon once again – this time not in traffic but in the pages of the Mail & Guardian. “DA, EFF shifting left and right,” said the headline on page 6. This was followed by several hundred fawning words on President Ramaphosa and a baffling conclusion that the DA has started moving to the political right.

The basis for this observation appears to be the President’s claim that the DA has resorted to what he calls “swart gevaar electioneering” in response to the threat of expropriation without compensation – a view seemingly echoed by the writers of the piece. And what led to this claim? An SMS the DA sent out warning South Africans that the ANC and EFF’s move to curtail Constitutional property rights could end up threatening all private property.

That’s simply stating a very real, very dangerous fact. Amending the Constitution is a slippery slope. The dilution of property rights means the dilution of everybody’s rights – black, white, future and present. Just because people desperately want to believe we now have a benevolent king who wouldn’t abuse this change to the Constitution, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Have we learnt nothing in two decades?

The real irony is, if you want to see what scaremongering looks like in electioneering, you need to look no further than President Ramaphosa himself. On the campaign trail in Limpopo in the build-up to the 2014 elections, he told voters: “If all South Africans don’t vote, we will regress. The Boers will come back to control us.” No facts, no truth, just good old “wit gevaar” scaremongering.

To now accuse the DA of a rightwards shift is naïve at best. It seems the writers of this piece have made the same basic error of perception – they have mistaken the ANC’s drift for that of the DA. Let me be very clear on this: the DA has not moved an inch. In these times of fluid principles, populist vote chasing and political flip-floppery, the DA has remained rock solid in its position. We support speedy and just land reform, as is evidenced by our superior track record on the issue where we govern. But we do so within the law and within the Constitution. Nothing has changed.

In the same article, Ramaphosa is also praised for the way he “very smartly” made the DA “look rather silly” by raising comments Mayor Herman Mashaba made on land expropriation as if he had exposed some kind of double speak by the DA. Unfortunately, the president completely misrepresented what Mashaba had said, and the star-struck writers gladly went along with it.

What Mashaba outlined for hijacked inner-city buildings in Johannesburg bears no resemblance to the ANC/EFF plan to expropriate property without compensation. And it certainly does not require a Constitutional amendment. The Mayor is simply making use of the provisions within the Constitution and testing the limits of the property clause – something the ANC could not do in 24 years.

These plans for Johannesburg include declaratory orders on abandoned buildings where the owners cannot be traced, compliance agreements with those that can be found, expropriation within the Constitutional framework around compensation for those who refuse to comply, and writing off debt in lieu of compensation for buildings that have a lower value than their outstanding rates and service debts. All within our current Constitutional framework, and all conveniently ignored by the president.

The reality is, the ANC is adrift. It has lost its moorings and it is now desperately trying to tether itself to anything that might deliver votes. That’s called populism. Once a ruling party starts fiddling with the Constitution in order to chase votes, you know they have exhausted all other options. The fact that they’re allowing themselves to be led down this populist rabbit hole by a 6% party with a propensity for violence and policies lifted directly from the Zanu-PF playbook is telling indeed.

Yes, land is a burning issue in South Africa. It is shameful that the ANC has not managed, after 24 years in office, to empower South Africans with land ownership. And by this I mean full ownership with title deed, not a statist dystopia where citizens are reduced to permanent tenants on their own land.

Our Constitution is not an impediment to such radical land reform, and it never has been. Section 25, the property clause, makes provision for speedy and just land reform. In fact, it demands it. But this requires political will to be properly implemented. It also requires that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform remain both corruption-free and sufficiently funded – all of which has proven impossible for the ANC. Hence the spectacular about-turn on expropriation without compensation.

There’s only one party shifting at the moment, and that party is not the DA.