If expropriation without compensation is to become an explicit constitutional reality (it’s already an implicit one because, as many have previously pointed out, the compensation required by section 25(2)(b) of the constitution can in theory be assessed as zero in financial terms) then we might as well find the silver lining and put the policy to good use.

In particular, the expropriation process would need to be protected from cronyism, whereby the political elite loot and plunder private property and resources to distribute among themselves for personal enrichment, as happened with commercial farms in Zimbabwe.

I propose two measures to achieve this. First, any property — be it land, shareholdings or intellectual property — that is expropriated without compensation should pass into the custodianship of an independent public body that draws from all sectors of society. Its leadership should comprise fit and competent people, some appointed by the president but the majority appointed by parliament based on public nominations.

Second, any ownership transfers of property or resources expropriated without compensation must be done on the basis of empowering and giving capital to the socioeconomically disadvantaged, on a nonracial basis. These beneficiaries could take the form of low-income households, education trusts for disadvantaged students, co-operatives of emerging township SMEs, or non-profit consortia providing services to the most vulnerable.

The underlying logic behind such an approach draws from the imperative to redress the asset-stripping and dispossession effects and legacy of colonialism and apartheid. Given that capital- and opportunity-deprivation were the modus operandi of colonialism and apartheid, it is obvious that the remedy to achieve redress is broad-based capitalisation and the creation, extension and broadening of opportunity to own assets and generate intergenerational wealth.

It would be wonderful if expropriation, should it happen, could be transmuted from a bogeyman and narrow political tool into a mechanism for putting land, shares and other assets into the hands of those who need genuine upliftment the most, thus broadening the base of capital and asset ownership to build a truly inclusive economy in which the majority of South Africans have a real stake.

Jabu Ntuli 

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