What expropriation without compensation means, depends on which party you ask – the EFF or the ANC.
To some, the differences in meaning may seem negligible since the net effect is the undermining of private property rights, but they are worth exploring.
While the EFF meaning of expropriation is the wholesale nationalisation of land, the ANC has been careful to focus on “unused and under-utilised land, or speculative or indebted land” as the backbone of their proposal with added caveats about not damaging agricultural production or food security.
Perhaps this is a way of trying to allay investor fears since President Cyril Ramaphosa understands very well that South Africa cannot hope to develop, survive or even thrive without investor money.
It is a precarious political tightrope motivated less by a desire to correct past injustices, and more about the danger of being one-upped by the EFF racially in an ever-fracturing society.
Land reform is intimately tied to racialised inequality in the South African mind, which is why the president regularly invokes a concern for the dignity of landless black South Africans.
However, it raises several questions.
Is land reform specifically a redress project, caring particularly for those who are on the bottom rung of society (the landless rural and urban poor)?
Or is it open to any person of colour who collectively feels the indignity of dispossession through either a hereditary link (parents, grandparents etc) or sharing skin colour with the formerly oppressed peoples of this country?
It is an important question because it will give character and form to who becomes a beneficiary of land reform.
Specifically, will the ANC’s expropriation be targeted at empowering anyone who is black, including commercial black farmers?
Or will it be targeted specifically at prioritising the addressing of inequality and landlessness among the rural and urban poor, especially women? Women who, currently, get only about 23% of any redistributed land?
In other words, is land reform trying to create a black commercial farmer class alongside a white one, or fundamentally is land reform trying to disrupt the agricultural economy and cultivate thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of small-scale black farmers?
If it is the first, then this fire and fury about constitutional amendments is merely a cheap, populist stunt aimed at pacifying a black electorate angry at how, in their perception, white people haven’t been made to “pay in” to create Nelson Mandela’s dream of a unified rainbow nation.
It’s not a coincidence that President Ramaphosa has taken to calling white South Africans lackadaisical, because, despite all his flaws, he is keenly aware of this existing perception among certain South Africans.
With regard to the second, since 1994, more than half of all farmland has been transacted on the open market and many of the new owners are companies and pension funds rather than white families.
The ANC’s vision of expropriation without compensation is a soppy, inconsistent and ultimately useless middle ground that will neither allay investor fears about undermined private property rights nor deliver the promised “dignity” to the landless poor.
The EFF has an unabashedly Marxist view of land and the ancillary (and disastrous) policies of protectionism and price controls go along with it.
The EFF is clearer about its racial stance on land as one of the means of “slitting the throat of whiteness”.
Its vision is decidedly one of racial Marxism and one that relies on a very strong antagonism towards free markets, private property rights, and any semblance of impartial institutions.
The EFF, too, is far more honest about what expropriation is about, mainly that, in the popular imagination, free markets and private property rights are vestiges of colonial and imperial subjugation and not to be trusted.
Those of us who believe in free markets and private property rights, both on principle and pragmatic terms, should take care to recognise that this boils down to a game of thrones between two competing views of the world.
So, no matter the differences between the EFF and the ANC, the endgame is the same; domination by the state.
A view that free individuals in a free society cannot be trusted to know where their best interests lie.
• Sindile Vabaza is an avid writer and aspiring economist. He writes in his personal capacity.