LETTER: Little satisfaction on land issue
It is premature to argue that a blanket taking of land is off the table
Your January 31 cover promises to explain "How land expropriation could work in SA … without destroying the economy" — such expropriation being of the uncompensated kind (EWC).
It fails in this. What seems to be argued is that EWC could expedite land reform. The ANC appears to support private ownership, so EWC could enable inclusive growth, expanding both property ownership and property rights.
There is scant evidence to support this. Little has been done to extend private property rights to those who have long occupied particular holdings, such as on land under the authority of traditional leaders. And in recent years, government policy on land redistribution has eschewed private ownership, retaining land acquired as state property.
It is premature to argue that a blanket taking of land is off the table. Numerous figures within the ANC have endorsed it, and it was among the recommendations of the government’s land audit.
Indeed, as my colleague Anthea Jeffery has argued, the Expropriation Bill (an indication of how EWC would function) does not actually limit EWC to a few marginal circumstances — rather, it explicitly states that this power is not limited to these. The definition of expropriation in the bill seems calculated to exclude "custodial" and "regulatory" takings, opening the door for extensive indirect expropriations, while placing no financial obligations on the state. A constitutional amendment would remove prospects for a constitutional challenge.
The EWC drive is shifting the relationship between the state and those subject to it. This is a power the state will have both over existing owners and any who might receive property through this process. To imagine that an empowered state with a self-styled "developmental" mission (and afflicted with numerous ideological and governance pathologies) would guarantee the property rights of new owners after having abridged those of others is a matter of faith, not evidence.
However, your article performs a service in candidly identifying the damage the mere debate around EWC has done. This should prompt grave concerns around its future impact.
SA Institute of Race Relations, Joburg