Expropriation without compensation a death knell for SA’s economic prospects

How many people in South Africa use their property to run a business, to make some sort of a living for themselves and their families?

No matter the exact number – be it 10, 1 000 or 10 million – their incomes will be threatened once the Constitution is amended and expropriation without compensation becomes law.

Once we do away with the concept of private property rights, any government – the current version and any future iterations – will be able to move in and seize property as and when it deems best.

It is highly irrational, to the point of shooting the economy in the foot, to allow any politician this magnitude of power over our property and our lives.

The report by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s advisory panel on land reform attempts to please many different masters, but it cannot escape the basic rule of logic that A cannot be anything else except A.

You cannot enshrine and protect property rights while also trying to work in expropriation without compensation – in whichever form this may take.

The members of the panel, and indeed Parliament, can quibble about the details, but once we accept the premise that the government owns our property instead of us, we head down a path from which we cannot turn back.

The guiding principle of the report is that the state must be at the centre, and to solve our problems for us it must be empowered to take from some to give to others.

Philosophically, the report gives its stamp of approval to the notion that we must vest more power in the state.

But your right to your property, to obtain and improve property, will never be secure under the expropriation without compensation model.

Expropriation without compensation is a policy of bad faith, of pitting race and income groups against each other, of pinning blame on convenient scapegoats instead of getting to work and solving real concerns and problems.

It sends a clear signal to both local and foreign business owners and investors that their property will not be secure in this country; that property will always be under threat from arbitrary seizure by future politicians.

South Africa has been battered and bruised by revelations of state capture over recent months and expropriation without compensation will increase the power the state has over us and dramatically increase the potential for looting and abuse by those in power in the future.

We must never grant any politician, no matter their intentions, this kind of arbitrary control and power over our lives.

Unused state land must be given to those who wish to own land.

The Registrar Of Deeds must be given as many resources as it needs to improve its efficiency and output.

Every South African who owns property must be recognised as secure in that property in the eyes of the state and the law – this is done through facilitating title deed transfers to those who do not have them.

Government’s limited resources dwindle day-by-day as more and more people leave the country because they do not approve of the socialist path we are on.

Expropriation without compensation is the method by which government will try to circumvent its failures in properly addressing land reform.

But it must own up to its mistakes and shortfalls; it must not make South Africans suffer for its shortcomings.

Adopting expropriation without compensation means ignoring the long, hard fight against apartheid’s control over black South Africans’ lives.

Expropriation without compensation is a return to that past.

It assumes all people of a particular race group think the same and have the same goals and desires – a deeply flawed and immoral view.

Each individual is unique, with his/her own challenges.

To presume that all people want agricultural land and using skin colour to make this judgement is deeply problematic and collectivist thinking.

The report engenders yet more economic and political uncertainty, which means yet more investment will leave our shores.

We must not be surprised when we read of skilled people leaving the country, or when we see the latest unemployment numbers.

By pushing for expropriation without compensation, the government is actively signalling that your business and your future will not be secure.

South Africa must follow the path of individual freedom and strong property rights if we are ever to turn around the fortunes of this wonderful country.

Chris Hattingh is project manager at the Free Market Foundation

This article was first published on 16 August 2019 on City Press

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