Land expropriation: Why calling SA a “second Zimbabwe” is wide of the mark

By  Tom Head

An American research team set tongues wagging in South Africa this weekend when they called on South Africa to learn a lesson from the Robert Mugabe regime, in order to avoid becoming a “second Zimbabwe” when implementing land expropriation policies.

The Cato Institute warned South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa to stay away from implementing any laws that would erode property rights in the country. Their verbose statements spoke of how a Zim-style implosion was “likely” if the president began sanctioning land and properties for his own political gain.

“Ultimately South Africa should heed the warning provided by their neighbour’s near-total implosion. The economic consequences that flow from a policy of land seizures are as disastrous as they are unavoidable.”

“This scenario is likely to repeat itself in South Africa. An attack on property rights will result in the destruction of South Africa’s farming community, a dramatic reduction in agricultural productivity, and mass unemployment.”

Fair point, we suppose. It’s unmistakable that following the Zimbabwe model would indeed collapse the South African economy. But is that what Cyril has actually been saying? Not really. The ANC leader has been very clear that, first and foremost, he doesn’t want to nationalise any land.

That’s a huge fork in the road from Mugabe’s early policy on redistribution. It also segues away from the EFF’s point of view that the state must own the land, establishing a clear centre-ground on the issue.

Ramaphosa has also explained that the constitution does allow for expropriation without compensation, if it is in order to “redress past racial discrimination“. He has a legal mandate which Mugabe never did:

“Section 25 (8) of the Property Clause explicitly states: “No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination”.

“The intention of the proposed amendment is to strengthen the property rights of all South Africans and to reinforce the transformative nature of our Constitution.”

On the other hand, that may make a few people feel a bit twitchy: If Cyril has found support from the South African bill of rights to take land, what’s stopping him and his party from launching a mass land grab? Well, the answer to that is “plenty of things”, namely our strong judiciary.

South Africa’s legal system is incredibly solid. We’ve been through everything from apartheid corruption, to Nkandla and state capture. But more often than not, even the highest authorities in Mzansi are not above the law.

In the last month, two senior ANC officials (Tom Moyane and Nhlanhla Nene) have been forced to leave office due to the competence of our investigative committees. Hell, Jacob Zuma was forced to pay back the money he stole from the taxpayers – it’s just a shame he hasn’t been put in orange overalls yet.

We’ve had a wobble here and a dip there, but South Africa’s lawmen and women do their job diligently. Even if the EFF were to win the election next year, there’d be many legal barriers to halt their hard-left policies on land expropriation.

According to Wits University School of Governance Professor Patrick Bond, Ramaphosa isn’t in any danger of losing the 2019 elections. He says this position of relative comfortability – despite predictions the ANC may get less than 50% next year – distances the president from Uncle Bob:

“For Cyril Ramaphosa, there doesn’t seem to be an imminent threat of him losing the election next year. He’s in a stronger position, and he is not facing a Mugabe-type situation where land reform is a last-ditch attempt to consolidate power.”

We also spoke to DA National Spokesperson Solly Malatsi on this issue. Despite the party’s obvious differences with how the land question should be dealt with, he was quick to dismiss the “second Zimbabwe” narrative.

He was very sceptical over the term “land grabs”, too. He believes that South Africa is nowhere near the situation faced by Zimbabwe at the turn of the century. Molatsi states that while land invasions do occur in SA, land grabs are not a thing in this country.

The key difference here is that invasions are carried out by people seeking economic opportunities and basic service provisions. Land grabs, in their historically-defined context, are more like the things we saw across the border – violent confrontations which end up displacing others.

“The comparison between Zimbabwe and South Africa is wrong. Given the judiciary system we have in this country, SA is nowhere near the reported Zim-style land grabs, and we will certainly not become a second Zimbabwe because of land expropriation.”

“Land invasions are isolated incidents, either motivated by economic opportunities or the calls of Julius Malema and the EFF. International media, in particular, have confused land grabs with invasions.”

“There is no room for land grabs within our constitution. It makes space for land reforms, and we are protected by our very strong democracy.” – Solly Molatsi.

Molatsi also believes that the reason these “second Zimbabwe” claims aren’t going away is that of the ANC’s own internal conflicts. In his view, the government are at odds with other factions of the party. This lack of policy direction has, therefore, created an atmosphere of uncertainty, which doubt can thrive in.

Context is a wonderful thing. Zimbabwe in the year 2000 and South Africa in 2018 have very little in common. One government actively encouraged land grabs, whereas the other has strictly outlawed and condemned the practice on home soil.

It’s always fun when the Americans have something to say about land expropriation, but there are a lot of “ifs and buts” in Cato’s research. A hearty mixture of South African law and common sense is enough to show anyone that our future is not Zimbabwe’s past. – www.thesouthafrican.com

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