The government has chosen to appeal against a recent court judgment that it should live up to an agreement to sell a property to the black farmer who had worked it for close on three decades. In so doing it has sent a profoundly important message about the direction in which it is intent on driving land reform.

By all accounts, David Rakgase had made a success of his farming operation, and was — at least in theory — an exemplar of the future of SA agriculture. He wanted no more than what most farmers want and need: title to the land that has been intrinsic to his livelihood.

The government has not only dragged this out for nearly two decades, but is determined to deny it to him. This speaks volumes about its intentions regarding land. Those who might hold out hope that the current policy drive — a constitutional amendment, expropriation without compensation, a new expropriation bill and so on — is about empowering those historically excluded from property ownership, should be disabused by this development.

The government’s actions bespeak an aggressively statist mindset, and future policy is likely to reflect this. We at the Institute of Race Relations have long warned that the ultimate goal is to in effect nationalise all land in the country. SA’s people will exist as effective tenants of the state. Its actions in respect of Rakgase are consistent with such a goal.

Perhaps, though, the government may have done the country a service by making its position clear. South Africans — whether farmers, businesspeople, homeowners or the millions who aspire to ownership — have been warned, and need to decide how to confront this.

Terence Corrigan
Institute of Race Relations