The African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and United Democratic Movement (UDM), have lost the moral legitimacy they may have once held as political organisations. On 15 November 2018, their representatives on Parliament’s Joint Constitutional Review Committee recommended that section 25 of the Constitution be amended to allow for expropriation “of land” without compensation. (This amendment will not just apply to agricultural land, but to all property, of all South Africans). The amendment to the Constitution tramples on the suffering of black South Africans under Apartheid and does away with the constitutional protections they and all other South Africans have had until now.
Individual property rights underpin all other rights. If one is not protected in one’s land, home, possessions, or wealth — if all of these are up for seizure by government — one is rendered essentially non-existent as a citizen in full standing in a constitutional democracy. Without a comprehensive right to own and securely keep property, government is effectively given the power to determine the acceptable parameters for one’s existence.
Each individual has to decide for herself how she wishes to live her life — earning a living, producing products and services, building businesses — but none of this, no ownership of herself as an individual, will be possible if she is not secure in what she produces and possesses.
Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly stated that expropriation will be conducted within a “legal” framework. Once the Constitution is amended, he will be factually correct — the law will allow for this to happen, but only because the law was changed for this exact purpose. Many atrocities committed by governments throughout history have been legal, including slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid. To presume that legality automatically means something is moral completely misses the nature of morality. Once property rights are up for arbitrary government seizure, any hint of the protection of individual rights — the proper moral purview of any legitimate government — will fall away.
If section 25 is amended, Parliament opens the door for the current and future governments to take the property of any individual or group they deem necessary without the safeguard of having to pay. To assume that only white people’s farms and other property is going to be targeted misses the point that the government will be granted the right to take anyone’s property in the future. For rich South Africans, many of whom are white, expropriation will not mean the end. They can and will leave the country when things become really bad. As is always the case when governments take away rights, the poor and marginalised, in this case black South Africans, will bear the brunt of the fallout. When the economy grinds to halt, food production declines, and investment leaves these shores, they will have to make do in the bread lines.
The ANC, EFF, and UDM are selling the future of South Africa for the expediency of votes before the 2019 elections. Instead of fixing their own flaws and deficiencies, they have seized upon a notion that they are wise enough to solve others’ problems for them, thereby undermining the dignity of black people for which the ANC fought as a liberation movement. Expropriation without compensation is not restitution; it is not land reform. It jettisons the individual as a moral entity within the framework of the Constitution.
Promises that property will still be protected, that SA will have economic stability, more foreign investment, and food security, are hollow pronouncements because verbal and written assurances do not have the force of law, especially if the amendment is adopted by Parliament. Governments throughout history have excelled at selling grand promises, and the end result of taking away individual rights has always been famine and destruction. It does not matter who is in charge of running government right now. It will not matter who is in charge of running government in ten years’ time. With the abandoning of individual property rights, whomever is in charge will be able to decide what one is allowed to do with one’s property.
Expropriation without compensation will not right any of the wrongs of Apartheid, because it is based on the same premise as Apartheid: that the government is the ultimate moral authority, that government can decide what we do with our property and by extension, how we ought to live our lives. True ownership of property is impossible without constitutional protection thereof. Without such, it will be a vague ownership, and ownership granted at the whims of an unpredictable government.
Cry the beloved country indeed.