SA is in deep trouble. But this should not provide licence to exaggerate our problems. It is irresponsible to do so.

Terence Corrigan of the Institute of Race Relations says my response to the Expropriation Bill is naive because it insists the proposed law is not unworkable and that the real challenge is implementation (“Expropriation Bill is about far more than implementation”, April 22).

He argues that in the context of a state riven by venality you simply can’t allow this sort of legislation, which is being driven by an ideological attack on property rights. He pronounces himself dead set against government land custodianship, which he thinks will upend SA’s property rights regime.

The Centre for Development and Enterprise is vehemently opposed to government custodianship of land, but this is irrelevant to the draft bill, which is built on traditional understandings of property rights. The word “custodianship” does not appear in the bill, which in most important ways mirrors the existing Expropriation Act, which has been in operation since 1975.

To reiterate our view: the bill is poorly timed, will discourage investment and has notable deficiencies, particularly in relation to the proposal that expropriation can be done for nil compensation. But it leaves intact the basic framework that has existed since 1975 and it is clear from the way the section on nil compensation is written that the courts will have to limit its applicability to a narrow range of cases.

Corrigan’s concerns reflect real and troubling trends, but saying that the Expropriation Bill represents a radical departure from the existing regime is, in our view and that of our many expert advisers, wrong. It is a speedy way to lose credibility and, with it, the ability to play a useful role in policy development.

When the ANC passed its resolution in relation to expropriation without compensation we were extremely concerned that this would result in a radical change in property rights. That has not happened, and analysts do themselves and the country a disservice by saying otherwise.

SA’s land reform challenge is not about expropriation. This bill does nothing to address the underlying problems of government capacity, competence and integrity, all of which are essential if we are to make progress in improving people’s lives.

Ann Bernstein
Centre for Development and Enterprise

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