The ad hoc committee on amending section 25 of the constitution has formally issued its report confirming the intention to amend the constitution. This will not only establish explicitly the constitutional permissibility of expropriation of “land and any improvements thereon”, it will define land as “the common heritage of all citizens that the state must safeguard for future generations” and institute a mandate for “state custodianship of certain land”.

Expected as this was, it marks an escalation in the move on property rights. That the supposedly reformist government of President Cyril Ramaphosa has pushed this investment-killing initiative as one of its signature initiatives is revealing about official intentions, even in the face of stalled growth and catastrophic unemployment.

But there is more at issue here. We at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) have argued for years that mass custodianship of land was the likely end point of this policy push. The amendment puts this firmly on the table. “Certain” land can, after all, mean many things, perhaps all agricultural land, perhaps all privately owned land.

This would in turn be a useful means of controlling private assets. SA’s economic fortunes being what they are, the ability to extract resources to run the governing party’s patronage network is in deep doubt. Commandeering assets is the next logical step. This will be matched in due course by other assets — pension funds being the most likely candidate.

SA has, fortunately, not yet passed the point of no return. But it is important that the dangers are recognised for what they are.

Terence Corrigan, Institute of Race Relations

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