Letter: The false data supporting land expropriation - Financial Times

30 August 2018 - Such false data support a narrative that land reform has failed to such an extent that only deeply intrusive state power over property rights can succeed — hence the demand for expropriation without compensation.

With reference to your editorial “ Why South Africa needs land reform legislation” (August 27): the issue needs rational debate, founded on facts — a standard to which not only Donald Trump must be held.

Consider the widely-cited distortion of data on South African landholding. Contrary to your editorial, an official audit did not find that “72 per cent of farms and agricultural holdings in SA are owned by whites and 24 per cent by non-whites”, nor that only 4 per cent of the latter are black Africans. The “audit” revealed that assigning a racial identity to ownership was impossible for over two-thirds of rural land (note, too, the information refers to acreage, not farm units, as you imply). This is because most is owned by the state, and by companies, trusts and community property associations. The figures you cite refer only to land held by private individuals, registered at the deeds office (about 31 per cent of the country).

These figures reflect past and current practices. Under colonial and apartheid rule, freehold title was typically denied to Africans. Land they did have access to was held “in trust”, by the state or by traditional leaders. This has continued since 1994. Thus, most of the landholdings to which Africans have “access” — and most land transferred to them via reform initiatives (around 6 per cent of the country’s area) — are not reflected, racially, in the audit.

Such false data support a narrative that land reform has failed to such an extent that only deeply intrusive state power over property rights can succeed — hence the demand for expropriation without compensation.

In this lies a great danger. Would it be limited to “unused land, derelict buildings, purely speculative land holdings, or circumstances where occupiers have strong historical rights and title holders do not occupy or use their land”? Possibly. But as yet, the only certainty seems to be that the ruling party is intent on implementing this policy. No firm plans have been advanced, and only vague, non-binding assurances. It is being vigorously promoted by many political leaders and shows every sign of developing a momentum that will be difficult to contain. Indeed, despite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for debate, he recently announced his party’s intention to amend the bill of rights to make the state’s right to take property without compensation “more explicit”. And this before mandatory public hearings had been completed. The implications are not encouraging.

Terence Corrigan

Project Manager,

South African Institute of Race Relations,

Johannesburg, South Africa

https://www.ft.com/content/6d600ea2-aae2-11e8-89a1-e5de165fa619

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