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Brigandry on the Highveld

25 June 2014, 12:43

The ANC government has done it again. Intent on land reform and possessed by a zeitgeist of South African exceptionalism, they have trotted out some key phrases from their socialist manifesto also known as the ironically titled 'Freedom Charter' to justify what amounts to nationalisation through the back door.

Throughout the final draft policy, we are treated to platitudes and resolutions made by politicians. While referring to the aforementioned Charter, a UN resolution and the South African constitution, there is absolutely no trace or hint of any serious research or historical precedents for any of the conclusions or declarations that the authors of this policy may have considered. 

To be sure, there are many case studies made of failed land reform programmes from Pol Pot's Cambodia to Lenin's Soviet Union. However, either through negligence or intent, the authors make no mention of how the South African government will avoid the mistakes other socialist nations made when forcing farmers to give up their land.

In the Soviet example, the state would take livestock upon maturity, so farmers would eat the animals before they reached the appropriate age for  'redistribution'. As for growing food, merely knowing that the more crops they produced, the more the state would take from them, the soviet farmers did not have the slightest incentive to produce more than they needed for themselves. The result - a massive famine that killed millions of people, even forcing Lenin to backtrack on his reforms. What makes South African policymakers believe that they can succeed where other, much greater nations have failed before? The answer is that they can't.

Similarly, you don't have to be a scholar of history to know what you would do with an asset that will soon lose half of its value; you would sell it at the first opportunity, accepting any price greater than the one you know you will be forced to accept later. Furthermore, who is going to buy anything as an investment, where half of that capital is going to immediately be parcelled out to the workers you may or may not inherit with the property? Are people really expected to wait two or three generations until a return on that investment is seen while their workers enjoy the benefits of land ownership? That is not investment - that is 'forced charity'. The combined effect of these forces will be to compel people to sell their farms at rock bottom prices to get everything they can out, while very few potential buyers will want to invest in a South African farm while they could spend their money in places devoid of these ill-advised laws. The result can only be disaster for both food security and private property rights, as shuttered farms create a new wave of unemployed workers, forcing the government to even more drastic action.

Finally, this selective reading of the 'Freedom' Charter must be put to rest. During the early apartheid years, socialism was 'en vogue' with the anti-apartheid intellectuals, and the language of the document reflects a strong Marxist-Leninist ideology that underscores almost every point. It talks a lot about the rights of 'the people', and returning trade and industry to 'the people'. However, the vague writing does not make any attempt clarify who qualifies as a 'person' that deserves all of these rights. The result is that a phrase such as, 'All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.' stand in direct opposition to affirmative action - you would thing that 'all people having equal rights to work would leave little to interpretation. We also find that the Charter states, 'People shall not be robbed of their cattle..' do the farmers being forced to give up there land not qualify as human beings? What about their rights? In my opinion the Freedom Charter is a bipolar mishmash of populist rhetoric, born out of a time when the failure of its underlying ideologies had not been fully realised. After the fall of the USSR, such a document should not find its way into any policy whatsoever, unless as an advisory note on what not to do. Nevertheless, South African lawmakers will continue to elevate, and present, it as the 'gold standard' of policy directives. After all, they honestly believe that South Africa can succeed in three years where one of the wealthiest and most advanced socialist nations in the world could not bring about over nine decades.South Africa does not exist in a bubble, and it's high time our government officials picked up a book and read about the results of some of these hare-brained schemes.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a quote by John Maynard Keynes, which I think perfectly sums up the current crop of South African 'leaders': “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.” The South African government continues to be a slave to Marx and Lenin, long after their sell-by dates.

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