Letter: Little satisfaction on land issue - Financial Mail

7 February 2019 - 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.

Your 31 January cover promises to explain, as the headline puts it, ‘(h)ow land expropriation could work in SA … without destroying the economy’ – such expropriation being clearly 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.

Scant evidence supports 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’s policy on land redistribution has eschewed private ownership, retaining land acquired as state property. An option to purchase is reserved for those able to farm on a commercial scale, and then only after 50 years of doing so.

We would further suggest that 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 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.

Your article, however, performs a service in candidly identifying the damage the mere ‘debate’ around EWC has done. This is despite the promise that it would harm neither investment in agriculture nor food security. This should prompt grave concerns around the future impact of EWC.

Terence Corrigan

Project manager, Institute of Race Relations

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