'Predatory state' could take more than just land, warns economist

Cape Town - Economist Dawie Roodt has raised concern about a “predatory state” that could take hold of land reform if a Parliament decision to set up an ad hoc committee into land expropriation is implemented and concluded.

On Tuesday the National Assembly adopted a motion by the Economic Freedom Fighters, supported by the African National Congress with some amendments, to begin investigating land expropriation without compensation, noting the necessity for expropriation in the light of South Africa’s history of land dispossession. 

The committee would look into the modalities of amending section 25 the Constitution for this purpose. It has until the end of August to compile a report on the matter.

This comes as the Constitutional Review Committee of Parliament has been looking at the implementation of various policies since the advent of democracy, and the socioeconomic impact these have had on South Africans.

Roodt told Fin24 there is a concern that lawmakers discussing expropriation could include property in its broader definitions, allowing the state to expropriate more than just land to be redistributed to historically dispossessed South Africans.

Not just about land, but about assets too

“It is important the state has a role to protect people and their assets. If the state becomes a predatory state, the relationship between the state and the people breaks down. This is not about land only. It is about assets. If not handled carefully, it will not be limited to land. The outlook of the state looks to see the state controlling property and assets,” said Roodt.

He said a number of questions still linger regarding the terms under which Parliament proposes expropriation to take place, and whether it would be worth making the amendments to the law and Constitution.

“This will take a long time and we do not know what form it will take. But the fact that they are considering [this] is a matter of concern, because it is about taking and controlling assets. Misallocation of land is a risk and will harm agriculture as well as damage the financial sector. The dangers are many,” said Roodt.

Roodt said while the past needs to be considered when formulating policy, Parliament cannot go ahead with the changes with a view to retributive justice.

“If anything is stolen by anyone, then it must be returned. That is the state’s job. But you cannot further discriminate in the process. The state must be careful when handling assets and ensuring that people are not deprived,” he said.

Roodt concluded that he is considering making a submission to the ad hoc committee once it is established and begins accepting public comment.

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