South Africa

Letter to the Editor: ANC had better have a damn good plan for land expropriation

By Johan Prins 7 March 2018

Within less than a week of passing the expropriation motion in Parliament, the most senior leaders of the government and the ANC have told South Africans and the world not to panic. Those calling for calm have included President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and ANC deputy secretary General Jessie Duarte. In each case, we are called upon to accept that expropriation is ANC policy, that what is under discussion is merely the “modality” of expropriation, but that we need not panic because it will all be handled in a responsible and sensitive manner. By JOHAN PRINS.

The fact that expropriation is on the table at all is already irresponsible. That the ANC allowed the matter to come to this point speaks either of a political failure of historic proportions or very dangerous political cynicism. That these high officials would then attempt to assuage the world by asking us all “not to panic”, by insisting that they will do what makes us panic, raises questions as to basic competence. Or perhaps the most finely developed sense of irony yet extant amongst our species.

We require – and have a right to demand – governments which have an accurate perception of reality and sufficient respect for the truth to avoid misleading the public. Asking us not to panic, under the current circumstances, calls into question both accurate perception of and the ability to tell the truth. Such behaviour from these high officials is already more than sufficient reason to panic.

Reading Duarte’s opinion piece in Daily Maverick, we are told that the policy of expropriating property without compensation was adopted by the ANC’s branches, which constitute: “…the broadest representation of South African society…”.

Isn’t that the role reserved, by the Constitution, to Parliament? How does Ms Duarte square her assertion with the fact that nearly four out of 10 South Africans didn’t vote for her party last time around, or that most ANC voters aren’t members of any branch, and therefore had no direct impact on the decision by the “broadest representation of South African society”? Increasingly, with the ANC, she doesn’t have to square statements with facts. The party constitutes the “broadest representation of South Africa”. So much for a passing grasp on reality. We just shouldn’t panic.

Duarte also speaks as though any negative impact of state expropriation would lie in the future, and that such damage can therefore be avoided or ameliorated. It makes me panic that she doesn’t realise (or will not admit) that the damage has already begun.

Considering buying a house or investing in a business? You must we worried about whether you’ll still own these assets in a few months. I know I am. Thinking of expanding your farm or adding more efficient irrigation? I know I wouldn’t. Need to sell your house to take up an opportunity in another city? How long before the buyers dry up? Should I add more jobs to my company? No. Should I invest my profits in South Africa? No. Should I renovate my house? Should I build a new office building? Not now. Who knows what I will still own.

So it’s probably best not to get too heavily exposed to the construction market right now. Or to work in construction, for that matter. Or agriculture. Or property services. Or maybe the banks. Or maybe any company that needs the banks for credit or to pay salaries. Fear and panic are corrosive to pro-social economic behaviour. Panic is impatient. It will not wait until August.

The ANC wants us not to panic because it is a serious, competent organisation and it has a plan, with a rational outcome, and we’ll all be fine. Happier, even, because whilst some people have lost their land at least nobody can ever own land again. Our joy springing from the realisation that, at last, we are all landless together.

What is your plan? You have set in motion a process over which your control will dissipate over time, whilst the pressure of expectation will increase. This will reduce your room for manoeuvre, especially within the ANC and its broader constituency. You will be forced into an act that will sever the arteries of our society. The likely subsequent economic (and then social-) melt-down will almost certainly overwhelm the state’s capacity to maintain order. These are the consequences of your current course of action. These have been the consequences of every such action in the 6,000 years of recorded human history. Every one.

But you say you have a plan, and that we’ll all be fine. So tell us what your plan is. Use simple words, and repeat yourself if necessary. Do it now. Because you had better have a plan, and it better be a damn good one, and we’d like to see the practical detail now, since you must have had the plan when you voted in Parliament. Because the issue is existential and we’re already panicking. Damage has already been done, and it will be compounded as time goes on.

Imagine how we’ll react if it turns out that you had no plan at all. DM

Johan Prins is Director (Strategy) at SPACE. He writes in personal capacity

Photo: Harvesting grain by combine harvester, Limpopo, South Africa, Photo by Wikimedia Commons, 29 March 2013.

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