We should learn from Mugabe, says South Africa's deputy leader

Mrs Mlambo-Ngcuka's remarks came shortly after a government summit to review South Africa's land reforms opted to drop the willing buyer/willing seller policy in favour of a new policy yet to be spelt out.

"Land reform in South Africa has been too slow and too structured. There needs to be a bit of 'oomph'. That's why we may need the skills of Zimbabwe to help us," she said at an education conference. "On agrarian and land reform, South Africa should learn some lessons from Zimbabwe - how to do it fast." But analysts and opposition MPs, who fear South Africa is already on the path to losing its status as the world's sixth-biggest net food exporter following the rejection of the willing buyer/willing seller policy, condemned Mrs Mlambo Ngcuka's comments as "grossly irresponsible".

While the need to redistribute land in South Africa to redress colonial-era imbalances is not disputed, there is almost universal consensus that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's methods are textbook examples of how not to enact land reforms.

Murphy Morobe, head of communication at the presidency, later attempted to dismiss the comments, saying they were made in jest in a lighthearted moment during the conference: "The Deputy President made this remark during a light-hearted exchange between her and [the Minister for Higher Education, Dr Stan] Mudenge, whom she knows," he explained.

Mr Morobe said South Africa could learn from Zimbabwe "or any other country" about the important issue of land reform: "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 lighthearted moment and turn it into a fact."

Years of often violent evictions of white farmers in favour of regime cronies have destroyed Zimbabwe's agricultural economy. A major international think-tank, the Washington-based Centre for Global Development (CGD), this week said Zimbabwe's economy had dropped to its 1953 levels due to destructive policies.

South Africa's official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has demanded that Mrs Mlambo-Ncguka retract her remarks and apologise to the people of South Africa. A party spokesman, Douglas Gibson, said Mrs Mlambo-Ngcuka's remarks explained why President Thabo Mbeki's government was providing succour to the Mugabe regime which had been isolated by the rest of the world.

"The lesson for our country lies in not following the same route which Zimbabwe has taken. Zimbabwe offers a textbook example of ways in which land reform should not be carried out," said Mr Gibson.

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.

A fellow DA official, Kraai van Van Niekerk, echoed these claims: "The government is trying to turn land owners into villains instead of recognising that they are victims of government slackness and failure to vote the funds."

According to the opposition, farmers wanting to sell their land did not know where to go and were shuffled from one official to the other. Black people already resettled were being abandoned on land without any back-up support to remain productive, the DA claimed.

The new V-P

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's appointment as Deputy President in June last year placed her in pole position to become her country's first woman head of state. She became an MP in 1994, and was appointed deputy minister in the Department of Trade and Industry two years later. She was promoted to Minister for Minerals and Energy in 1999. She is married to Bulelani Ngcuka, the former chief prosecutor who investigated former Deputy President Jacob Zuma, the man she replaced. She led a delegation to observe the 2005 Zimbabwean election, which the group said was "a peaceful, credible and well-mannered election which reflects the will of the people".

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