Calling  December 4 2018 — when a majority in parliament voted to amend the Bill of Rights to empower the state to expropriate property without compensation —  a “historic day” may well be accurate, but anyone with a sense of history will know it’s not necessarily a date to celebrate.

After all,  June 19 1913 — the commencement of the notorious Land Act, or July 7 1950 — the commencement of the Population Registration Act, were historic too. They signalled chapters of dispossession and oppression.

As for December 4 2018, what our legislators did was signal their commitment to empowering the state to take private property. They have declared themselves ready to meddle with the Bill of Rights — even while some acknowledge existing provisions permit land expropriation  — and set a sinister precedent for constitutional governance in future.

They have in turn engendered ever more uncertainty — acknowledged as an obstacle to economic dynamism in SA — in pursuit of a doubtful policy goal. This contradicts the government’s declared intention to make SA attractive to investors. The ideological and political satisfaction that may be derived from land expropriation  will come at the cost of lost opportunities, stunted investment and anaemic job growth. These are the predictable outcomes of this decision.

As a means to expedite land reform, expropriation without compensation  fails miserably, as the compensation requirement has never been shown to present a significant obstacle.  Land expropriation without compensation offers merely distractions from the numerous pathologies in SA’s land reform endeavours, and will likely compound existing problems.

So on this day, it may well be that history was made. Sadly, the significance with which it is regarded in future will be proportional to the damage it inflicts on everyone.

Terence Corrigan
Project manager, Institute of Race Relations