I was reminded sharply on Tuesday night of the rebuke “no one forced you to do this” when I guest anchored the eNCA tv show ‘Let’s Have it Out’.

I selected the topic ‘expropriation without compensation –the economic consequences’. Intended as a sort of tv bloodsport, my opponent for the evening was EFF Gauteng chair, Ms Mandisa Mashego. However, from the opening bell, or question, I remembered, too late alas, Thomas Freidman’s wisdom on the dialogue of the deaf in the Middle East: “if you ask what is 2+2 and your opponent says 5,  you can still have a discussion; but if he answers 87, you are on different planets.” So this proved in our  debate  about  land in SA. We were Venus and Mars.

I thought of interest to ask her  how undermining  property rights might sit with the few taxpayers (just over 100 00) who pay the bulk of personal taxes and presumably own properties and are highly mobile, and  able to exit SA ?

She was having none of it. Instead of an answer on the merits, I was suddenly the proxy on screen for billionaire Christo Wiese, whom she accused of being a tax delinquent, treated with kid gloves by SARS.  (Cue here: all white taxpayers are dodgy). Then my parents (both deceased and who to the best of my knowledge were unmet in their lifetimes by Ms Mashego) were introduced into the answer: “I’m sure they left you property” she angrily admonished me.

In response to another question, Ms Mashego chose to deliver a stern warning, quaint in its own way from a leading EFF politician, about polite public behaviour. “I’m just warning Afriforum that they had better behave properly at the Gauteng hearings on expropriation this week”.

Time did not permit me to say that I was neither a member of Afriforum, nor indeed cognisant of Mr Wiese’s tax affairs. But of course this was not about my perspectives, or questions.  I was, in terms of her racial and rhetorical co-ordinates, the representative of 4.5 million white people in the country. This was race essentialism laid bare –and little wonder we were veering all over the map.

On the day of this T.V. joust, the IMF had published a report with the alarming statistic that inflation in Venezuela was soon to hit 1million percent . Since this beggared country –though once the richest in South America – is the inspiration for both the EFF’s red berets and their land policy, I thought she might want to explain?

It has nothing to do with policy, my opponent confidently advised . “It is all about corruption.” On this basis, SA inflation should also be in the statistical stratosphere, instead of our earthly 6.5 % inflation rate. After all, Ms Mashego had just raved on about ANC corruption as well.

But television time, like logic, is limited. So now I thought I would target a bull’s eye: “Can you mention one country in the world where EFF style expropriation without compensation has actually led to economic growth?’’. I thought she might mention North Korea. Instead, she completely floored me with her answer: “Singapore.”

I wondered how the most capitalistic country in Asia with –according to Property Rights Index – the highest protection of property rights in that continent, could be a role model for EFF radical policy?

We could not pursue it on air; but Ms Mashego kindly gave me a copy of her party’s policy booklet whence this remarkable fact apparently appeared. Buried in it was the ‘fact’ that indeed the state in Singapore owns much of the land.

But unmentioned by the EFF is the analysis by the Singapore Academy of Law Journal (2010) that in the event of a forced expropriation, “compensation is now based on open market value” – a much greater protection than even our current constitution provides.

Facts and figures don’t matter much in this debate. We are in an era what famed orientalist Bernard Lewis called political fundamentalism: “I’m right, you’re wrong – go to hell.” But since he is a dead white man, doubtless Ms Mashego and her party can brush off the warning or denounce its genesis. . But ignored or not, it rings ever louder.

Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London. @TonyLeonSA.

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