This Land is our land: expropriation a poison pill or magic fix?

IN 1967, folk singers Des and Dawn Lindberg debut album, Folk on Trek, was banned. One of the reasons appears to be a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, ‘albeit South Africanised with local landmarks ‘and written as “This land is my land, this land is your land. From the great Limpopo to Marion Island.”

The pair appealed in court to have the ban on Folk on Trek lifted’, writes Charles Leonard, but lost the case. “All copies of the album were ordered to be destroyed although some fans hid theirs and, as a result, some copies survived.”

Land dispossession, in particular the aftermath of the Glen Grey Act of 1894, and 1913 Land Act, which both limited land ownership and restricted the franchise along colour lines, has long been a bone of contention.  Yet one hundred years later a new democratic order emerged, alongside property guarantees which enabled a black majority government to begin the process of land restitution on the basis of the ‘willing buyer/willing seller principle’.

Some R60 billion was pumped into land reform with mixed results.

The country experienced a 15-year long boom period which came to an end in 2009. Cut to 2020, and wholesale ‘land expropriation without compensation’ a policy at first introduced by the far-left opposition EFF, is being seen as a magic bullet panacea by the ruling party, one which will usher in a veritable Eden of opportunity. A constitutional amendment of article 25 apparently gazetted last year is being rushed into Parliament, with January 31 being the last opportunity for comment by the public.

In the midst of this, there is talk of doing away with legal scrutiny of the new Land mechanism which can only be put in place if the constitutional amendment is passed with a 2/3 supermajority in Parliament.

The bill must be passed by 267 votes of a possible 400 votes. Currently the ANC only has 230 seats. It would still need to garner support from either the official opposition DA, with 84, seats or 3rd largest party, the EFF with 44 seats.

It is significant that it is under the former President Zuma that one version of the Expropriation bill first emerged in 2016, where it was referred to the President and lingered in committee. As early as 2006, President Thabo Mbeki ‘used his State of the Nation address to revisit the “willing‐​buyer willing‐​seller” principle for land redistribution‘. Criticism of which is a perennial favourite amongst members of the ruling party.

Arguably, the single most disruptive policy, bar already weak economic performance, failing SOEs and the Zondo Commission. It is the threat of land expropriation which is driving both immigration and uncertainty within the country,  leading to a looming tax revolt, and criticism of President Ramaphosa, lead by banks which see the deleterious side-effects on property prices as a dangerous precedent.

Nowhere in the world, wherever property rights have been eroded or undermined by the state, has there been a contingent increase in economic stability, instead the reverse is true.

Both Venezuela and Zimbabwe provide abject examples, since state seizure of land, for whatever purposes, invariably sets in motion economic forces which are difficult to contain, the least of which is the impact on foreign investment.

Nationalisation is at the heart of the hyper-inflation experienced by these two countries.

Simply transferring arable land to the masses will not equate to instantaneous economic opportunity, as so many leftist commentators maintain, but risks a crisis situation in which current land tenants move from one economic model of exploitation to another — from land tenancy at the behest of private capital to land tenancy on behalf of the state.

In effect the failed SOE model is being allowed to reign supreme, as the state begins to supersede the private sector. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange risks becoming irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

Alongside the logic of nationalisation, the invariably reduction of economic output, with consequent inability to fund growth without borrowing money. All evidence points to the failure of such policies wherever they have been tried.

While Western economies, though troubled, are growing, South Africa’s GDP reached a high of 416.9 USD billion in 2011, declined until 295.8 USD billion 2016 and is only now recovering at 349.4 USD billion, a factor of the world economy coupled with Rand deprecation which has made local goods cheap in comparison, rather than any policy per se.

Which brings one to question the entire modality of land ownership. Is land ownership really so desirable?

Would it not be better to create a co-ownership democracy in which each and every citizens receives dividends from the state which derives benefits from taxation and growth, rather than to jettison the private sector and risk dumping the capitalist economy entirely?

A policy of kaizen as practiced by the Japanese, consistent improvement as opposed to unpredictable change would also do wonders, as would household responsibility, a policy introduced in China under Deng.

Instead of building new cities and driving massive public projects, the state has instead focused on defending those few jobs which remain within SAs state enterprises.

Instead of having the courage to let go of those SOEs which have failed, or saving ESKOM the energy parastatel by splitting it up into viable parts, the ANC under Ramaphosa has chosen the path of centralisation, commandeer-ism and the dictates of the so-called dirigiste economy.

This is entirely the result of the ideology of the ruling party alliance which includes trade union COSATU and SACP, an alliance which has worked to stall progress at the same time that it looks for a quick fix, and appears to be short of ideas, save for its promises to those without land.

25 years of statist tinkering with the system has failed to deliver results for ordinary South Africans. It remains to be seen whether land expropriation will deliver anything more than a poison pill.

UPDATE: Deadline for public comment has been extended by one month.

SEE: Cato Institute sounds warning on expropriation policy.

Government can take your home, farm, or business premises under Constitutional Amendment Bill




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