Written by: Anthony Stuurman
“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness.”
– Thomas Sankara
There is one man South Africans should know about, and that man is Thomas Sankara. On 4 August 1987, after a coup d’état (with the help of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi), he became president of what was to become Burkina Faso. Despite his death in 1987, his ideas continue to influence so-called revolutionaries today, hailed by many as the exemplary leader of pan-Africanism, socialism and anti-colonialism.
During his time as president he demonstrated what has come to be known as the Sankaran Leadership Principles. He set up policies aimed at improving the status of women, reducing government corruption (all government Mercedes were sold off to be replaced by Renault 5s, and ministers were obliged to drive themselves – no chauffeurs!), tackling HIV/AIDS, and large-scale reforestation programmes.
Andile Mngxitama, leader of BLF (Black First, Land First), while ideologically having many influences, is a confirmed Sankarist. On one level Andile’s attraction to Sankarist socialist policy is enticing; after all, who wouldn’t want to see Jacob Zuma et al drive themselves around in little Renault 5s? The influence of Sankara can be also seen in other political groups: the red beret worn by Julius Malema and other members of the EFF (Andile himself wore the beret when he was a member of the EFF) isn’t accidental, as it too was worn by Thomas Sankara. There is however a darker side to Sankara’s socialist policies.
Sankara’s major impact on Burkina Faso was to implement extensive land expropriation.
Like Sankara, Mngxitama is determined to introduce a similar socialist-style land policy. Many critics have pointed to the disastrous effects of land expropriation on the economies of Zimbabwe and more recently, Venezuela. Closer to home, we have a situation where 90% of redistributed land has failed financially, despite government assistance. Some have even questioned the need for land distribution; the bulk of housing, for instance, is already black-owned and the black middle class is now the biggest of all groups. Mngxitama, however, has shrugged all of this off, and has put land expropriation as the headline to the BLF’s socialist manifesto. Perhaps one of the reasons that Mngxitama clings to land expropriation is the claim by revolutionaries that Sankara’s land policy was a success, leading to food self-sufficiency in just a few years.
How true is this? What were the wider implications of Sankara’s land policies? Is Andile Mngxitama living in a madness-inspired dreamworld or is he ahead of everyone else?
The answer is pretty clear. Despite the actions of Sankara, the Agrarian Revolution in Burkina Faso was ultimately unsuccessful. Even today, according to UN reports, only 13% of arable land is utilised. This is due to a number of important factors: farms tend to be very small and labour-intensive. The reforesting policy didn’t work, with soil erosion being a serious problem. Without adequate investment, as would be seen in modern, commercial agriculture, limited irrigation capabilities have exacerbated the issue. Claims that Burkina Faso developed food self-sufficiency are unquestionably false. Even decades later, the UN reports that food security is still an issue. Due to the over-reliance on agrarian crops such as cotton for foreign trade, price fluctuations continue to wreak havoc on the country’s economy. Decades on and 90% of all workers are in the poorly-paid agricultural sector. As a consequence, Burkina Faso has one of the lowest average wages in the world.
To compound matters, Sankara (remember, he was never democratically elected) had to set up so-called Tribunaux Populaire de la Révolution (People’s Revolutionary Tribunals) in order to implement his policies. These tribunals acted as de facto kangaroo courts, jailing anyone daring to object politically. Amnesty International heavily critiqued Sankara’s government, highlighting many human rights abuses such as the torture of political opponents. The free press was also suppressed. It wasn’t long before Sankara was running around Burkina Faso in a motorcycle convoy, surrounded by selected female bodyguards in a manner not unlike his sponsor, the Mad Dog of Libya himself, Muammar Gaddaffi. There can be no doubt: the only person that benefited from the revolution in Burkina Faso was Thomas Sankara. Almost inevitably, by 1987, Sankara was assassinated.
Andile Mngxitama’s continued uncritical embrace of the Sankara socialist cult is dangerous. South Africa cannot possibly benefit from an agrarian revolution. Our agricultural sector is far too developed for that. We’ve achieved what Sankara’s revolution couldn’t: in terms of food security, South Africa is the only self-sufficient country in Africa. A revolution would put us decades behind, never to catch up with our competitors.
In reality, Mngxitama’s plans for land expropriation add up to nothing more than an illegal Ponzi scheme. This is something that Andile knows well. In April, he tweeted about the notorious MMM Ponzi scheme, to which he had joined: “I’m only moved because the banks are campaigning against it. It must be a good thing”. How on Earth he can possibly think this way, is difficult to fully comprehend by anyone with an even tangential grasp of economics.
If Mngxitama’s glowing view of get-rich-quick schemes is anything to go by, it is fair to ask whether the BLF party is Mngxitama’s own mad attempt to generate personal wealth, at the expense of those far less fortunate than himself. There is no morality or leadership in treating the poor of South Africa as cash-cows – just madness and greed. Andile Mngxitama is in danger of becoming what the Rational Standard’s Malusi Ndwanwe refers to as a ‘race-pimp’: someone who uses racial tension for their own benefit.
South Africa doesn’t need any more madness, or race-pimping Ponzi schemes.
Author: Anthony Stuurman (a pen-name) is an educator in the Eastern Cape with an interest in neuroscience, ethnobotany and a passion for free speech.