Political comment: Property rights

Gavin StewardThe following is a summary of some of the points made by Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation, in a speech to the Conference on Land Ownership in South Africa on 31 May 2013

Perhaps one of the most unpalatable truths of our time is that our government is planning a multi-pronged assault on the property rights of white South Africans.

The assault includes proposals in the 2011 Green Paper on Land Reform; Tokyo Sexwale’s announcement last week regarding the “deracialisation of white suburbs”; and the recently published draft Expropriation Bill.

The Green Paper advocates ‘Agrarian Transformation’ which would result in “a rapid and fundamental change in …systems and patterns of ownership and control… of land, livestock, cropping and community.” It proposes far-reaching changes to traditional forms of land ownership including the proposition that, in future, privately owned land will be freehold with ‘limited extent’.

Minister Sexwale’s plan to “deracialise white suburbs” might erode the value of the most important asset that most South Africans own – their homes. “De-racialisation” would be achieved by “obliging” banks “to provide loans to black people to purchase property in previously exclusive white suburbs”. However, there are no longer any “exclusively white suburbs”. People – whatever their race – can buy homes anywhere they like provided they can pay the prevailing market price.

The draft Expropriation Bill gives effect to the constitutional provision that property may be expropriated in the national interest which “includes the nation’s commitment to land reform, and reforms to bring about equitable access to all South Africa’s natural resources”. However, it then adds the words “and other related reforms in order to redress the results of past racial discriminatory laws or practices“. This could conceivably be used to justify the expropriation of virtually any property owned by white South Africans which might be obliquely linked in some way or the other to “past racial discriminatory laws and practices”.

What then is the origin of this multi-pronged attack on white property rights? The answer lies in the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) – which is the guiding ideology of the ruling alliance.

The NDR’s primary goal is “the resolution of the antagonistic contradictions between the oppressed majority (blacks) and their oppressors (whites); as well as the resolution of the national grievance arising from the colonial relations.”

According to the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics documents, “a critical element of the programme for national emancipation should be the elimination of apartheid property relations. This requires: the de-racialisation of ownership and control of wealth, including land; equity and affirmative action in the provision of skills and access to positions of management…”

According to the ANC, this is a continuing struggle “which, as a matter of historical necessity, will loom ever larger as we proceed along the path of fundamental change.”

In March last year, the ANC announced that the time had at last arrived for it to proceed more vigorously with its efforts to eradicate the socio-economic legacy of apartheid.  Minister Jeff Radebe, the ANC’s Policy Chief, proclaimed that “having concluded our first transition with its focus in the main, on political democratization, we need a vision that must focus on the social and economic transformation of SA over the next 30 to 50 years”.

Radebe’s views were endorsed by President Zuma in his opening address to the ANC Policy Conference in June 2012. He said that the ANC intended “to democratise and de-racialise the ownership and control of the economy by empowering Africans and the working class in particular to play a leading role”. 

The Policy Conference reached broad agreement that “this second phase of the transition should be characterised by more radical policies and decisive action to effect thorough-going socio-economic and continued democratic transformation…” 

The ANC’s National Conference at Mangaung in December last year endorsed the central elements of the “Second Phase” approach. It proclaimed that “we are boldly entering the second phase of the transition from apartheid colonialism to a national democratic society. This phase will be characterised by decisive action to effect economic transformation and democratic consolidation, critical both to improve the quality of life of all South Africans and to promote nation-building and social cohesion.”

There can be very little doubt about the seriousness of the ANC’s commitment to the redistribution of white-owned land and property. It will proceed as quickly as the objective circumstances and developing balance of power will permit.

The ANC is preparing the ground for the Second Phase by concentrating on three basic arguments. The first arises from its version of South African history in terms of which everything that happened before 1994 was irredeemably evil. Increasing use is made of the term “apartheid colonialism” – implying that whites are transient alien interlopers.

The second leitmotif is the notion that economically and socially nothing has changed in South Africa since 1994.

The third theme is the ANC’s insistence that most of the country’s current problems – and especially the triple crisis of inequality, poverty and unemployment – can be ascribed to the legacy of the past.

Whatever the historic merit – or lack of merit – of these arguments, it would be surprising if they do not stir up some degree of racial animosity – or at the very least – reinforce perceptions of white moral inferiority and black entitlement. Inevitably they will fuel demands for restitution – particularly of land.

White South Africans should wake up to the unpleasant fact that they are the main target of the NDR. Their government has launched a multi-faceted campaign to undermine their legitimate interests and rights on the basis of their race. They are like the proverbial frogs in the pot: the water is simmering and the ANC is turning up the heat.

We should seek to engage the ANC leadership at the highest possible level in very frank debate about these issues. The really scary possibility is that the ANC actually believes its own propaganda.

Above all we should defend the Constitution, the values that it espouses and the rights it protects. We should also draw the ANC’s attention to section 9(3) of the Constitution in terms of which the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds – including race.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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