South Africans need property – and must understand what that means - AgriPortal

26 April 2018 - Economic Freedom Fighter’s leader Julius Malema’s comments at Thembalethu Stadium in George earlier this month included some memorable remarks on property: ‘No one respects a person who is propertyless,” he was quoted as saying (“Occupy land 'legally' – Malema”, Timeslive, 6 April). “It doesn’t matter if the person is white or black. When you’ve got property, your confidence comes back. You are not people in the eyes of the people who own property, they see you as sub-human.’

Terence Corrigan

Economic Freedom Fighter’s leader Julius Malema’s comments at Thembalethu Stadium in George earlier this month included some memorable remarks on property: ‘No one respects a person who is propertyless,” he was quoted as saying (“Occupy land 'legally' – Malema”, Timeslive, 6 April). “It doesn’t matter if the person is white or black. When you’ve got property, your confidence comes back. You are not people in the eyes of the people who own property, they see you as sub-human.’

One may rightly dispute the manner in which this is phrased, but the prevailing sentiments have merit. Private property is intrinsic to people’s dignity and to a regime of human rights and civil liberties.

Above all, private property makes it possible for individuals to exist without complete dependence on the state.

But this must be properly understood. It is not only people’s possessions – their worldly goods and ‘estate’ – that is important. Property in its true sense is a system that recognises and legitimises, in law and practice, this ownership.

The policy of Mr Malema’s party is substantively opposed to property rights. On land reform, the EFF’s position is that all land should be transferred to the ‘ownership and custodianship’ of the state. The EFF is hardly alone in this, since numerous proposals have been made by government over the past decade to shrink the scope of property rights.

One of the recommendations of the recent Land Audit was for just such a state taking of all land in the country.

Under this regime, people might get ‘access’ to assets, but it will not be their property.

Indeed, a great failing of the post-apartheid order has been to extend property rights to black (and specifically African) people. Whether in respect of housing provision, or the redistribution of farming land, government has shown a great deal of reluctance to giving beneficiaries true ownership of these assets.

This presents some uncomfortable continuities with the past. The High Level Panel into Transformative Legislation chaired by former president Kgalema Motlanthe commented: ‘It is of great concern to the Panel that recent policy shifts appear to default to some of the key repertoires that were used to justify the denial of political and property rights for black people during colonialism and apartheid.’

South Africa’s people deserve the dignity of full participation in the economy. Robust private property rights – ownership, not ‘custodianship’ and ‘access’ – are imperative for this.

Terence Corrigan is a Project Manager at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR)

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