Land expropriation without compensation is an illusion that cannot lead to a better life

Land expropriation without compensation will only benefit the elite at the cost of South Africa. The ANC and EFF might suggest that it is in the interest of the poor, but state-controlled land policies have failed in economies around the world. They have also disempowered the poor and led to greater patronage among the elite.

South Africans must reject this amendment of the Constitution and embrace the free market if we are to have any chance of a sustainable and prosperous future.

The ANC has been in government for 26 years. Over this period, unemployment has risen, poverty worsened and socio-economic issues exacerbated. Given these problems and ostensible declining support for a Zimbabwe-style land policy, the ANC resolved to amend the Constitution. And now the Constitution faces its biggest challenge – land expropriation without compensation.

Undoubtedly, the presupposition of our Constitution is equality which encompasses all South Africans regardless of race. However, the draft Constitution Amendment Bill creates an illusion of benefiting black South Africans and, thereby, the creation of a prosperous society.

This pursuit creates the false impression that some people will benefit from land expropriation without compensation. In fact, it will only create a greater incentive for more state capture and bring about economic misery, because it will increase government control over people's lives.

Given South Africa's dark history, it was important to preserve the essence of human rights in the Constitution. In a speech to the US House of Representatives during the Bush administration, former president Nelson Mandela said that sanctions on South Africa should not be lifted before a constitution was in place, which solidified the rights of all South Africans.

Despite the importance of the equality, ironically it seems the ANC feels comfortable enough to trample on this principle. Even though the party was involved in creating our Constitution, it seems that many of its leaders forget too quickly that evil begets evil. Remember, Mandela himself stressed the importance of turning the other cheek.

The attempt by the ANC, with support from the EFF, to amend section 25 of the Constitution, will not benefit anyone other than the elite. During 26 years of democracy, the only defining moment for South Africans was the day they were freed from apartheid. Since then, SAA has been run into the ground, Eskom is an unstable entity, state capture became rampant, all just to benefit a few at the top.

If government officials and politicians could achieve these outcomes without amending the Constitution, then we should all be concerned about what they would "achieve" if South Africa was to adopt land expropriation without compensation.

Because the wrong policies have been adopted, poverty has worsened and the people of this country continue to suffer despite the elite revolutionaries living in comfort and benefiting from patronage.

The poor have always been at the losing end – despite their allegiance – no matter which policy is adopted. It is convenient for the politically-connected to keep the poor where they currently are so they can make them continue to vote for the ANC in the hope of getting a better life. This creates an endless cycle of dependency, as is the case in Venezuela.

The poor will suffer most if land is state-controlled, as has happened in Venezuela where this was done under the guise of the so-called empowerment of the poor. However, this class-based authoritarian land reform only benefits those who support the regime and punishes the so-called enemies of the state.

The Venezuelan government does this by deliberately creating an environment for legal ambiguity, to arbitrarily select winners and losers and to turn people into reliable political clients who keep the regime in power.

Ultimately, the poor suffer in two regards. Firstly, they are not inherently politically connected so the likelihood of obtaining a land grant is extremely slim. Secondly, there are simply too many people who are poor.

State-led poverty alleviation always leaves many people waiting for years or even decades, during which time they continue with their lives. With economic freedom, you have the chance to improve them.

With land expropriation without compensation, farmers and investors will be threatened by the insecurity of having their property and their corporations expropriated. Poorer people will have even less chances of working as business activity dries up.

This presents a Catch-22 situation for the most vulnerable in society, the gamble between buying false promises and their real livelihoods.

There are countless alternative solutions to end poverty. One way would be to deregulate the business environment to allow corporations more room to produce more, employ more people and pay them more.

It would be irrational to destroy the foundational principle of our Constitution to make way for an anti-property regime which wouldn’t even benefit the people it seemingly intends to help.

Riaan is studying for a BA in politics, philosophy and economics with the University of SA. He is an activist whose mission is to influence the next generation to value the ideals of liberty and equality.

This piece was first published on City Press on 01 May 2020
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