A coalition of 23 advocacy groups and think tanks around the world, under the banner of the international Property Rights Alliance and in partnership with the Free Market Foundation, have signed a letter to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, warning him and government against pursuing the policy of expropriation without compensation any further.
Today, 28 February 2020, is the final day for written submissions on government’s draft Constitution Eighteenth Amendment Bill, which proposes to change the Constitution to allow government to expropriate private property without compensation. This coalition of organisations, from Europe to South America, hopes government will change course.
The coalition likens private property rights to a basic human right, arguing that EWC will be detrimental to all South Africans should it be adopted. They write:
“South Africa has an internationally acclaimed Constitution premised on freedom, human dignity, and equality. Its Bill of Rights has never been altered and the evidence shows that there is no reason to do so now.”
In support of the point that property rights are human rights, they cite Article 17 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that “everyone has a right to own property alone as well as in association with others” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property”.
The Property Rights Alliance’s flagship initiative, the International Property Rights Index, explains private property:
“Property rights are a decisive institution of the rule of law that maintains an unavoidable link with freedom. They are a complex legal institution that allows owners to use parts of nature and limit their use by others. They are a condition for the exercise of other rights and freedoms. Property rights are a fundamental counterbalance to the exercise of power because they limit the power of the State and are fundamental for productive transformation in the knowledge society. In short, property rights are an essential element for a free society based on the foundation of citizenship to control their own lives and build their own destiny.”
The coalition quotes from Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom:
“The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. … It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. If all the means of production were vested in a single hand, whether it be nominally that of ‘society’ as a whole or that of a dictator, whoever exercises this control has complete power over us.”
When governments do not feel compelled to pay compensation when they seize property, the coalition continues, “a significant safeguard against arbitrary exercise of government power is removed, and the incentives that ownership generates – investment, development, and the human dignity of the owner, are undermined.” The amendment to the South African Constitution also sets dangerous precedent which would allow future governments to remove existing rights in the Bill of Rights on the back of passing political expediencies.
Zimbabwe and Venezuela, and the disastrous consequences those societies suffered after adopting expropriation without compensation, feature prominently in the letter.
View the full letter here.