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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.

  • Another amazing article, Mr Stuurman! I really hope that some of the race-baiters and socialists read it and are swayed, but I doubt it. The nature of African Socialism is one of dogmatic doctrine. They accept their doctrine regardless of evidence or criticism – damn reality.

  • Brian Green

    Andile Mixmaster just had four (4!) properties he owned reposssed by the banks. Clearly not doing so bad for himself in the property game until now hey

    Can’t wait until he’s fined R150k for the next racist kak he says

  • Harald Sitta

    It’s a per-industrial society outlook on land.The whole political movement is nurtured 1/3 by resentment, 1/3 by Marxism-Leninism and 1/3 “Voelkisch”. It is also a Bolshie hate against the independent farmer. Finally they forget – but will never accept – that today possession of land for agricultural purposes is not longer an exercise in political power as in feudalism but just the necessary tool for a highly specialized profession, the farmer!

  • Altus Pienaar

    While I agree that the totalitarian approach of Sankara and mr Andile Mngxitama will certainly be disastrous I do believe that an agrarian revolution is required.
    There is two reasons why I say this; 1 – for obvious reasons a social change is needed where more people have access to rent free land where they can create a dignified living for them self.
    2 – This civilization are nearing the end of cheap and abundant energy as oil are running out and together with other fossil fuels have become very unpopular due to it’s destructive impact on the environment. This combined with the fact that our food are being delivered saturated with harmful chemicals and devoid of nutrition is gradually forcing us to look at ways of producing food more naturally by using traditional practices.
    This will only be possible in small scale farming requiring much more manual labor. Most academics and ‘educated’ city dwellers shy away from the idea of manual labor but for many it is very satisfying and invigorating to be doing work by hand. What usually takes this pleasure away is when the worker gets alienated from their handwork by capitalism and commercial farming.
    Increasing fuel and transport costs is the main contributing force to rising food prices and will force us to explore ways of producing locally for local markets instead of allowing a hand full of producers sending their product all over the country.
    There will also be an increase in the costs of mechanization as the price of energy increases due to supply problems in the near future. This will eventually start making manual labor more competitive allowing smaller, organically managed operations to be financially more viable than the large commercial farming operations.

    • You’re going to hate one of my upcoming articles.

      How is small hold farming going to deal with the rising cost of agriculture in terms of energy consumption, natural disasters and environmental change? Big scale farming is a much better alternative as it allows the pooling of resources to efficiently control damage and deliver food.

      • Altus Pienaar

        I am looking forward to it 😉 …..but mostly I commit to behaving from now on and will only deliver useful and engaging commentary. Besides….this is what this platform was created for, to bring different arguments to the table and to look for a common ground.
        I would love to submit a piece on my ideas of why centralism cannot work and why humanity have to develop mechanisms to prevent its constant occurrence.

      • Altus Pienaar

        First we must define small scale farming. It is important to differentiate between a scale that is mostly subsistence production or large enough to produce enough produce that will be consumed in the immediate surroundings without leaving much surplus to export to other parts of the country. Some areas traditionally has been the bread baskets of the country and I believe they will always stay that way although their output will shrink to an extent.
        Currently here in Middelburg all fresh produce is imported from the Western cape, Port Elizabeth area and some might come from Natal and the Lowveld in Mpumalanga.
        It is however possible to grow about 90% of all this food right here in this climate by using only a modest amount of infrastructure and a slight modification of traditional methods of growing in this area. These same methods have been used in large scale production in all the high producing areas but sadly when it comes to the Karoo nobody seems up to the challenge. I believe this is due to the fact that up to now it was just cheaper to transport and import fresh goods from other more productive areas.
        Increases in fuel costs is now slowly turning the cards and soon it will become more viable to look at ways of producing locally and saving on big transport costs, transport which also provides other challenges for instance; in order to deliver food in a fresh enough condition which still appeals to the consumer, fresh produce is harvested prematurely voiding it from taste and nutrition.
        Producing right next to their markets growers can use growing practices that is more easy on the environment and allow for vine ripening which increases food value to select consumers.
        Another great example of the potential for local production and consumption is the recently established abattoir just outside of town. Middelburg is traditionally sheep farming country and farmers send their sheep to distant “rounding off” facilities where perfectly organic Karoo lamb are being turned into junk meat over a 6 to 8 week period being force-fed an unnatural diet designed exclusively to put on as much weight as possible before slaughter.
        Some of this same meat is then transported back to Middelburg to be sold in the local butcheries. How absurd!!!
        A small abattoir next to town exports meat to Natal but none of it is sold in town. This scenario can, and I believe will change in future where most of the meat consumed in town will come directly from the farms straight to the abattoir and on the butchers.
        While I agree that farmers might start to pool more resources in the future I see it happening in the context of co-operatives where a handful of farmers will come together allowing each member of the co-operative to specialize in different aspects of the farming operations while finding a co-operative understanding in the middle. This will help better diversification and will allow land to become more productive without putting more environmental strain on the land like over grazing due to large herds of livestock.