What Does Land Expropriation in South Africa Actually Mean?

  • By Russell Stone
  • 31 May 2017

Since SONA, the term land expropriation has been thrown around by the ANC. This is not surprising given that the party is doing all it can to regain mass support. What does land expropriation in South Africa entail?

The Land Expropriation Act was first established in 1975 by the Apartheid Government, giving the state the authority to expropriate privately owned land, provided that it was for public purposes, like the construction of roads or power lines.

The new Act put forward by the ANC includes an additional clause stating that property can also be expropriated if it is in the ‘public’s interest’. This is believed to be a mechanism to speed-up land reform. Whether property owners will be compensated for their land has not been clarified. One proposal is to compensate property owners with what the state believes to be a fair market price. The other is to expropriate land with no financial reimbursement.

The most concerning aspect of the amended bill is that the term ‘property’ has not been defined. Does it refer to land, assets or intellectual property or all of the above? Further what form of land title system will be implemented should the expropriation drive take hold? As history demonstrates, state ownership of agricultural land is almost always accompanied by food insecurity and an unproductive agricultural sector. At this point these answers aren’t clear, but with an underperforming economy and a desperate need for both local and foreign investment in South Africa, clarity on the matter is vitally important.

The average age of farmers in South Africa is 60. It is essential to establish the next generation of farmers. Land reform could facilitate this, while redistributing wealth. But the revolutionary rhetoric and proposal of expropriation promoted by political leaders is remarkably similar to Zimbabwe’s liberation leaders, after they had also failed to deliver on their liberation promises 20 years into independence. Like the Zanu-PF, the ANC has not delivered and after 23 years South Africans are becoming impatient.

For more information on the outcome of indiscriminate land expropriation with the loss of property rights in Zimbabwe see the link below:

https://www.cato.org/publications/economic-development-bulletin/how-loss-property-rights-caused-zimbabwes-collapse

B. de Jager – RSG

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