Expropriation without compensation sends a clear message

Call it what you want: economic justice, expropriation without compensation, helping the poor, but the reality is most of the world will sum it up in one word – theft.

You can say you are “fast-tracking land reform” but what is being fast tracked now is land theft.

It isn’t that there are cases against specific landowners for having stolen the land they occupy.

What land might have been stolen and by whom is an open question.

There is no history that accounts for a specific person stealing from others and then passing it down through successive generations.

Instead, there is a vague, unspecific concept that whites stole land from blacks.

In reality, blacks stole land from one another, whites stole land from whites and blacks, a bit of everyone trying to steal from everyone else, which is something politics is often all about.

One purpose of a bill of rights is to prevent this from happening again – not to enshrine the concept in law.

To the degree that land was expropriated in the past, who had the power to do that? It was the government of the day.

If there is one body, one institution, that has always been involved in land expropriation it is the government.

Given that the government remains the largest, single land-holder in the country, it would make sense that restitution should come first and foremost from government-owned properties and not from properties that others, who had no role in previous expropriations, paid for.

Particularly, not land being used to create wealth, prosperity and jobs.

There are two messages being sent by the ANC government with the help of those fighting economic freedom.

The first message is that the Bill of Rights in South Africa is quite meaningless and only means what a majority in Parliament want it to mean at any specific time.

Whenever it is politically expedient for the parties to pillage the Bill of Rights, they will just waltz in and change it.

In other words, it isn’t just property rights that are insecure, it is all rights that are now on the chopping block. That is one message from this farce.

When it comes to expropriation, the other message being sent isn’t just the insecurity of land rights, but that all property rights are at stake.

If the government can use force to expropriate land, it can expropriate businesses and bank accounts.

All that needs to happen is for extremists in Parliament to rattle the ruling party and government to suddenly discover an urgent need to steal something else.

The problem is the ANC doesn’t actually have to do this for the resulting damage to set in.

Just letting the world know it is open to expropriation without compensation does the damage.

It sends a signal to investors, of all races, that investing in South Africa is a mistake – that the government can confiscate successful investment anytime it wants while propping up utter disasters such as South African Airways (SAA).

And SAA should teach us something about the government’s competency to make complex economic decisions.

Politicians generally aren’t businessmen for a reason. It is those who have no clue how to run businesses who often end up in government.

We then find complex businesses, such as SAA, being run by individuals whose only qualification was an intimate relationship with the president.

Exactly who will be deciding what land to steal and to whom it should be given?

I fear the political decisions will always be bad ones.

We saw this in Zimbabwe as land was confiscated and given to individuals whose only qualifications were that they were relatives of Mugabe, or military officials propping up his regime, or political allies.

Productive farms were destroyed, thousands lost employment, and most were made worse off because of it.

It wasn’t just a disaster for the people whose land was stolen but for the entire country.

The whole idea of expropriation without compensation has been the policy of the failed government of Venezuela.

Today, this once prosperous country is suffering mass starvation.

Government soldiers murder protesters in the streets, millions have fled the country, the medical system has collapsed, and the socialist government claims all is well.

If that is socialism when it is “well” I’d hate to see how it is when managed badly.

Oh, we did see that in Mao’s China where millions starved to death!

. James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute and author of several books including Exploding Population Myths and The Liberal Tide

This article was first published in City Press on 18 April 2019  

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