The Northern Cape Expropriation List

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Northern Cape Three Sisters

The publication of a list of 30 farms in the Northern Cape targeted for expropriation without compensation (EWC) has raised the hackles of the agricultural sector in a manner seldom seen previously. Compiled by the provincial Africa National Congress (ANC), it provides some noteworthy insights into how a broader EWC campaign might unfold. The signs are not encouraging.

The list is intended to inform a rapid taking of land in the near future. ANC provincial secretary Deshi Ngxanga was reported in the Diamond Fields Advertiser as saying that the party was undertaking an audit of all privately and state-owned land. ‘This is to ensure that once the process of amending Section 25 of the Constitution has been finalised, we are able to speedily ensure that the land is distributed to especially young people who are interested in working the land,’ he remarked.

His comments strongly suggests that these 30 properties represent an initial stage of the process, and that other properties will be demanded in due course. (An unnamed source within the ANC said that the list was ‘expected’ to grow.)

The implications of this are grave and should not be underestimated. Not only does it indicate that EWC is viewed as a serious policy to be implemented (and not just adopted as a symbolic measure), but that it might be applied without regard to the current economic use of the properties. The vast majority of them appear to be productive: vineyards, crop and livestock farms, with a couple harbouring game or producing salt.

This directly contradicts the loose assurances offered at times by senior politicians, and echoed by numerous journalists and commentators, that EWC would not (or, perhaps might not) target productive landholdings.

Agricultural organisations have reacted with grave concern. The Southern African Agricultural Initiative declared itself ‘shocked’ at the news. Agri-SA demanded its immediate retraction, and the Afrikaans weekly Rapport carried a front page story that the organisation was calling for external pressure to bring the ANC to its senses.

Both organisations said that this demonstrated a betrayal of previous assurances that land reform measures would not undermine the economy or property rights.

Said Agri-SA president Dan Kriek: ‘Agri-SA engages with government, the ANC, and all other organisations with the understanding that we all respect due process and the rule of law. We regard the latest statement by the Northern Cape ANC as being in breach of these principles. We have appealed to the national leadership of the ANC to intervene. We will not hesitate to litigate in order to protect private property rights, which we regard as absolutely critical for economic growth that we sorely need as a country.’

In response to the list and the furore around it, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture reiterated that expropriation would be limited to unproductive and unused properties.

But he also said that what would happen would be defined by Parliament. And in a sense, therein lies the rub. The drive towards EWC has no clearly enunciated objective or endpoint. It remains to be defined. The process so far is to be measured almost entirely in terms of the expansion of state power. This is clearly seen in the determination to amend the constitution, in the hefty discounts the state has granted itself through regulations under the Property Valuation Act, and most pertinently, the wide discretion contemplated for it through the Expropriation Bill. With the constitution and the law suitably altered, the odds might well be stacked decisively against any future legal challenge.

How this is to be used – what will be up for seizure, and what will be protected, and under what conditions – is an unknown.  This list clearly indicates that within the ANC, there exists an audible demand for intrusive and far-reaching seizures. It also demonstrates that some economic damage is an acceptable price to pay to achieve it.

It may also be very revealing that this list is emerging from a party structure, not from a state bureaucracy. EWC is not a mere administrative or even policy matter, but is rooted deeply in the ANC’ worldview. An understanding of the ANC’s broad ideological narrative, its so-called National Democratic Revolution (NDR), provides some useful indication of where this policy trajectory will ultimately end up. With a key objective being the fundamental restructuring of existing ‘property relations’, and of placing the economy under the aegis of an all-wise and infinitely just state (whether this be understood as a socialist dispensation, or something akin to a mighty East Asian-style ‘developmental state’), the NDR aligns neatly, if not indispensably, with EWC. That it would be used to take valuable or productive property was always inevitable. The Northern Cape list is likely to be a precedent, not an aberration.

And it is for this reason that we at the Institute of Race Relations have repeatedly warned that it must be so regarded. For the most part, this was ignored. (One key exception here was the Transvaal Agricultural Union, which had a better sense than most of the ideological direction of policy.)

We were often accused of being alarmist. In some quarters we still are. But perhaps the last week has shown that an alarm is warranted. If so, it may have been for the good.

* Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).

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