Believing that those in positions of power and authority are about to do something reckless rightly causes concern. Believing that they are specifically aiming them at you personally causes panic.
It's fair to say that palpable shivers of the latter reaction went through many in South Africa's farming community (and well beyond) when a list of farms purportedly targeted for expropriation without compensation was released by AfriForum over the weekend.
The background was an announcement a week earlier that the seizure of properties had been green-lighted by the highest authority in the land, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC). Instructions had been sent to ANC deployees in the land reform bureaucracy to move on this, and a list of 139 properties that were to be used as test cases for expropriation without compensation has been prepared.
(To help things along in future, Cyril Ramaphosa – president of the ANC in this case – went live to announce that the constitution would be changed to make its endorsement of expropriation without compensation "more explicit". It wasn't clear why meddling with the Bill of Rights was necessary, you understand, since he also said that "a proper reading" of the Constitution allowed it anyway. Maybe there was concern about improper readings.)
All told, AfriForum's document suggests that 195 properties are in the government's crosshairs – these including, apparently, a number of productive farms. If accurate, this at last makes "more explicit" how expropriation without compensation is to be applied. Not just to a vacant plot near Postmasburg, or an abandoned building in Hillbrow, but to value-adding real estate.
KwaZulu-Natal ANC chair Sihle Zikalala probably got it right, saying that the focus of expropriation without compensation would indeed be on productive land. The consequences of this will be, to put it mildly, interesting.
Having trumpeted the imminence and necessity of expropriation without compensation (in May, President Ramaphosa – again donning his party hat – declared emphatically that "we are going to take land and when we take land we are going to take it without compensation") the next move from the government's side was surprising, and carried more than a hint of concern, even panic of its own.
Minister of rural development and land reform, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, not only denied that the list was authentic, but that there was any list at all.
That's right. "The list", the document that was to launch the bold march to restructure property relations, that was so widely reported in the media, turned out to be a figment. In the words of a statement put out by her department: "Minister Nkoana-Mashabane would therefore like to set the record straight that there is no list farms (sic) for expropriation of land without compensation."
The 139 revolutionary steps to a future of justice and prosperity do not exist. At least, that's the story. Funny that it took AfriForum uploading a pdf on its website to elicit this response. When the existence of "the list" first came to light a week earlier, there were no denials.
And that's not all, not by a long shot. The department acknowledged that the parliamentary process is ongoing and the Constitution remains unamended (these are details that did not encumber the president – and in times like these, one must accept one's constitutionalism wherever one may find it).
The department then goes large on how the Constitution ("still") requires just and equitable compensation. The latter idea seems largely to have gone out of fashion over the past few months, but in the department's statement, one might be forgiven for thinking that some element of compensation is the default position when expropriations are undertaken. Maybe even that compensation is a respectable part of the process – though one must be careful of overstressing the point.
Most peculiar. Even more peculiar if one looks at the minister's comments back at the grandly named National Forum for Dialogue on Land, Heritage and Human Rights in March this year. Here, the minister was in full fight mode. Expropriation without compensation was not something that could wait for the parliamentary processes. It was an urgent necessity to be undertaken with fervour. "If we need to expropriate your land, we are going to do that, because it is in the constitution," she declared.
The land that the government wanted to take in this way had already been identified (although, in all fairness, maybe this was not on a list...). The first blows would come swiftly. Government intended to act secretively to minimise the risks of recalcitrant landowners doing things like going to court.
"If I tell you now, you're going to have some spanners put on the wheel and make my life a little bit difficult. Let me act on the things I need to act on, and then let's move on," she said. "Some are going to offer to be lawyers to help defend those people, and I would have started a problem and not a solution for myself, and I refuse to do that."
A surprise, shock-and-awe expropriation scenario, in other words. And perhaps an explanation for denying the veracity of "the list".
One wonders why any such subterfuge (if that is what it is) would really matter. Government has broadcast its intention to confiscate property loud and clear. And while it may prefer to perform this in dark corners and away from scrutiny, its prospects of doing so have long since vanished. The damage the government was evidently prepared to accept in the interests of its reckless expropriation without compensation drive – long before "the list" controversy – will be evident for a long time to come.
List or no list, if it persists on the current course, it is in for many more panicky moments ahead.
- Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.
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